Trip Planning

Trip Planning.

Being retired military and having been responsible for many trip planning’s over the years, I figured that getting ready for a trip around the country would be easy to plan. Well, I have never worked so hard at something in my life. So I figured I would let you know what I found that works for me.

Whether you are taking a weekend trip or a several year jaunt around the country, you need to do a little planning before you go. We all have checklist for packing, food, pre-trip checks, setup checklist, tear down checklist etc. (either written or in our minds). But the road trip also needs to have it own plan, especially if you have a bigger RV. The last thing you want is to be traveling down a one lane road and come up on a bridge or overpass that you can’t fit.

I am going to walk you through a recent trip planning session. Our destination was South Dakota. No time frame for this one, but we did need to be home for October. We were leaving in July. As I was gathering information for the trip we also found out that there was a rally in July in OH that would be nice to attend.

Basic requirements. When traveling, 300 miles per day is about the maximum I want to travel. Unlike in a car and staying in hotels, you have to figure time for setting up at the end of the day, tearing down at the start of the day, meals, walking the pets, getting fuel etc. Plus I don’t speed when driving at 26,000 pound rig. That means I am spending about 6 hours driving per day. Because I am driving a bigger rig, I also want to avoid those side roads that could get me in trouble, but, I also want an alternate route if something comes up.

Now GPS is nice and some of the newer ones will take into account the size of your vehicle, get weather and traffic reports etc. But if you have ever used one, you know they are far from perfect. I don’t know how many times the GPS has told me to get off the major highway, take a service road only to get back on the highway at the next exchange. I have no idea why, but it has happened too many times for my liking. GPS is a tool but not fool proof.

So, to start planning, I like to begin with a list of places we want to visit. I use a spreadsheet that list the name, city and state (We have a bucket list also includes the time of year as well, since we want to see these places sooner or later). If there is a time-frame to be at a place that is added as well. Next I research campgrounds near the areas on my listing. For our trip we were leaving Denver, PA on the 7th of July. We wanted to be in Dayton OH on the 16th of July. From our bucket list I found that there was a Perogie Festival the weekend of the 24th of July and we wanted to visit Mall of America. These were all added to the list. Here is what I would have at this point:

State Location Season
PA Washington, PA 7/8/2014
OH Dayton, Safari Rally 7/14/2014
IL Chicago 7/20/2014
IN Pierogi Festival – Whiting IN 7/20/2014
MN Mall of America, Bloomington 8/1/2014
SD Drivers Licenses etc 8/6/2014
SD Mt Rushmore 8/10/2014


Next would be researching some campgrounds. We have four memberships that offer discounts for our camping (Thousand Trails, RPI, Good Sam and Passport America). Thousand Trails is basically free camping for us (we pay an annual maintenance fee), RPI is the next cheapest, then Passport American and Good Sam round out the preferences. I am also retired military so I can stay on military bases as well. Researching is different for each of these memberships. Basically, I log into the membership website and check to see where the campgrounds are at. I also have a database of about 8000 campgrounds that I can research. But since you won’t have access to that, I won’t use it here.

Next I get out Google Maps and determine the distances between where I am and where I want to go. Denver, PA to Dayton, OH is about 500 miles. Too far for a single day of driving. Besides I want to take it easy. Looking at my bucket list I have a week to get from Denver to Dayton. With a little eye balling, somewhere around Washington, PA would be good. So I check my membership websites to see what campgrounds are around there. Nothing for Thousand Trails, but RPI has two sites. One is preferred RPI so I selected that one. I continue on with each destination, determining the miles, intermediate stops and campgrounds in the area. This is what I have after this step:

PA Washington, PA 7/8/2014 Champion, PA Roaring Run Resort
OH Dayton, Safari Rally 7/14/2014 Dayton, OH Montgomery Fair Grounds
IL Chicago 7/20/2014 Belvidere, IL 61008 TT Pine Country, Belvidere, IL
IN Pierogi Festival – IN 7/20/2014 Belvidere, IL 61008 TT Pine Country, Belvidere, IL
MN Mall of America 8/1/2014 Bloomington, MN Pathfinder Village, Hinckley, Minnesota
SD Drivers Licenses etc 8/6/2014 Sioux Falls, SD Hills RV Park, Plankinton, SD
SD Mt Rushmore 8/10/2014 Rapid City, SD Hart Ranch Resort, Rapid City, SD


With the itinerary done, I can now start planning the routes. Google is pretty good at this and I can get a printed map for the navigator (wife) to follow. In addition, I can use this information for the GPS and use Google to double check what the GPS wants to do. Neither one are fool proof, but they do help check each other.

When I put the destinations into Google it shows the time and distances. Some of the trips are over 300 miles per day so I may add some intermediate stops. Granted this is a lot of work. Finding the destinations, distances, campgrounds, etc. can take some time. This trip took about an hour to work out online. But I know where I am going, know the roads will be good enough for the RV and can plan for extended stays.

There are some programs and websites out there that will help with your trip planning. Good Sam and AAA both offer trip planning services. In addition, I recently found a website ( that was designed by RVers for the RV travel planning crowd. It is a subscription based website that takes all of these steps into consideration. I will be using it soon for the return trip. Once I give it a try, I will let you know how it goes.