THE EARLY BIRD GETS THE WORM A.K.A. PLAN AHEAD
A big takeaway since launching as full-timer RVers on July 29, 2018 is to plan ahead. The popularity of RVing continues to grow with retirees as well as for those in their 20s-50s. According to a November 12, 2018 Washington Post article https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/11/12/million-americans-live-rvs-meet-modern-nomads/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5034530e11aa, 1 million Americans live in RVs! Especially for those still working, our digital world makes it easier to work remotely as a “digital nomad”. Also, a growing number of families are home-schooling their children while RVing across the country. We met one family doing this and follow several other families on Instagram. As for the Early Bird, this past year we quickly discovered that to stay at the more popular national park and state park campgrounds, we needed to reserve several months to a year in advance!. With a 30’ trailer we don’t fit into just any spot! In fact, many state and national parks have a 30’ length restriction.
LAYING OUT A PLAN
This past year we traveled at a fast clip. We intentionally planned several trips within a year’s time based on a desire to see many family members and friends, to visit national parks and state parks, and to more fully embrace a full-time RV lifestyle. Laying out a plan depends on our goals, the amount of driving required, and our camping budget.
Our goals vary from long term goals (visit the 407 national parks and monuments) to short term goals. Last year we wanted to visit as many friends and family as we could. It involved driving many miles and having many shorter trips. This winter we will be exploring Arizona State Parks, which should be less driving and longer stays. Along the way we like to visit museums or local attractions, pause to enjoy quirky Americana, taste pies and ice cream, hike, and bike.
Amount of Driving
After having driven 45,000 miles since March 2018 when we purchased our pick-up (that’s 15 months), the amount of driving required to attain our traveling goals translates into costs in fuel, tires, maintenance, and wear-and-tear. This is changing because we cannot keep up this pace. Longer driving days and multiple days in a row can be fatiguing when pulling a trailer.
As retirees, budget considerations are key since we are attempting to live more frugally. RV resorts, while they have some lovely hotel-quality amenities, can be quite pricey. We stayed in a KOA resort in Tucson when there were no other options when planning last minute. We stayed at other KOA campgrounds across the country when state or national parks weren’t an option. For KOAs, there are budget, mid-range, and resort franchises, with the resorts often near larger cities. We have stayed at several privately owned RV parks. An even more budget-friendly approach has been to reserve in state park, national park, county or municipal campgrounds. A free or nearly-free option has been staying on Public Lands i.e. BLM (Bureau of Land Management), U.S. Forest, and National Recreation Areas. With public land stays, there are typically no hookups and even water may not be available. Beginning this summer we hope to explore more public land stays in Colorado. Over the winter, we will check out Utah, Nevada, and Arizona public lands.
Park pass discounts have made a difference. We both have a Senior Lifetime National Park Pass. Besides free admission into National Parks and Monuments, we also receive a 50% discount on campsite fees. When we anticipated staying in a state park longer than a night or two, we explored the cost savings if we would purchase an annual pass. Several state park passes have already paid for themselves thanks to the discounts on campsite fees. We also have a KOA Value Card membership which provides discounts.
TRIP PLANNING TOOLBOX
By early June, we had our goals for the remainder of 2019 and up to mid-June 2020 identified. We spent several hours planning through April 2020. To plan, we used resources from our trip planning toolbox, which are highlighted below:
Pad of Paper
A good old-fashioned pad of paper and pen or pencil works for us to jot down notes, ideas, and dates as we refine our plans.
We have a Google Calendar that is just for travel. In fact, it is a shared calendar with our children so they can check on our upcoming travels and vice versa.
Facebook RV Groups & Instagram RV Travelers
We are on Facebook with several RV groups, which have been invaluable for ideas, trouble-shooting concerns with the trailer, and connecting with RVers. A main “go-to” for us is “Where’d You Stay RV” with over 20,000 members! Using the search feature, we search by city, state, state park, national park, and so on. Once we had a list of campgrounds that we liked, we wrote down the dates when people had stayed there.
With Instagram, we are following a growing number of other full-time RV travelers. Similar to the technique with Facebook, we revisited a handful of Instagram friends’ photos and posts. One couple in particular are also retirees and last year traveled with their RV through Arizona from West to East, lower elevation to higher elevation across the winter months. Their posts were extremely helpful for gleaning campgrounds, dates, and weather.
Once we had the places and dates, we used Weather Underground’s website: https://www.wunderground.com/. For instance, I entered “Lake Havasu City, Arizona” and searched for January 16, 2018 (last year’s information). Of course, the weather changes from year to year, but we thought it would at least give us a base reading and avoid weather extremes.
When we’re at the campground’s website and have the campground map showing the campsites on our laptops, we also open Google maps in satellite view. On the laptop screen, we place the campground map and satellite view side by side. We may look for some shade in the warmer states or sunshine when we might not have an electrical hookup and rely on our solar panel. Orienting north-south and east-west, we can usually see “shade” or “sunshine” in the satellite view. We like to avoid being adjacent to the toilet facility, refuse area, and the RV dump station. We identify the primary road through the park or busy highways and railroads nearby. We select the campsite that we like based on the map, satellite view, and the information that is usually given about the particular campsite i.e. length, hookups, and if it’s a level site.
Some of you camp in RVs or tents. What are some of your planning techniques? We’d love to hear from you and learn some additional tips.
We’re attempting to live “Life at the Speed of Sanity”!
~ Diane and Steve