Category Archives: Trip Planning

Websites We Use

There are several websites we use while on the road besides Facebook.  I think the two most important ones are RV Trip Wizard and RV Village.

RV Trip Wizard  is a trip planning website. It cost about $30 a year but it has saved me many times more than that.  You start with entering your location and how many miles a day you want to travel.  It then provides you with a graphic display of where you can go and what campgrounds are in that area.  You can click on a campground to read about it, visit the websites, call them etc.  Once you find the place to go, add it to your destinations and the radius moves for your next leg of the journey.  The map also shows you warnings and danger areas due to restrictions that might be along your route.  Once you finish with the plan, you can print it, export it to Excel or your GPS.

The second website I use is RV Village.  RV Village is a community website.  Members post to a forum like page about current activities etc.  But the more important part is the who is here.  When you log into RV Village you enter where you are currently. The website then shows you who is also there.  You can view their about me section and send them messages.  It is a great way to meet new people.  There are also groups for people with like interests.  I have met several really good people.  It is free and still a fairly new site.  As of today about 12,000 RVers are signed up.

Best Laid Plans…

Well, life has a way of messing up plans.  I had planned out the rest of the year and scheduled our stays at the campgrounds.  Then a few weeks ago, I got the chance to take a RV Inspectors training class which led to having to take an Advance Inspector Training class.  So all the plans went out the window.

Luckily, I found out that they were having training in NC around the time we are to visit Gabby, Gray and Jackson (our Great Grand Son).  Daisy and I talked about it and Daisy decided that since it is so close to Gabby and the family, I should take the training.  You read between the lines.

So plans were changed, dates rearranged and all is good.  Until… Garth Brooks released his next set of dates for concerts.  Low and behold, he is playing in NC a week after my training.  I do some quick checks and if we rearrange the schedule Daisy can go to the concert.  Being that Garth is her favorite singer, the campground reservations are changed yet again.  This time the plans were harder to make.  Seems before we were changing campground in the middle of the week, this time we were scheduled to move on Thursday, November 27.  No biggie, right?  Except that is Thanksgiving.  After much discussion, we came up with a new schedule for Myrtle Beach.  But plans are now made and we will be having dinner with one of our relatives in Myrtle Beach.  IF they will have us 🙂

Christmas is the next big planning headache.  But for now, I think we are all set for that one too, unless…

Planning our Retirement Trip

This article is not to be an answer to everyone’s needs.  It is how we have chosen to travel around the country and planning our stops to make the most of our money.  Having discussed various methods on Facebook, I know this can be a hot topic.  Take it as one method to travel around this great land.

When we decided to retire and hit the road, I started researching the cheapest methods to visit various places.  We wanted to visit all the states.  We wanted to have the comforts we had grown accustomed to and live within our budget.

I am retired military and 62 years old.  Our income is slightly over $3000 a month.  We have money in the bank and are debt free.  Planning for retirement started about a year before we hit the road in June 2014.

For about 12 years we have lived in various RV including 2 fifth wheels, a travel trailer and now a motor home.  Initially, we were going to use the fifth wheel as our retirement home and take an embroidery business with us as an extra income.  However, we decided to sell the business and sold the fifth wheel to our daughter.  At the time we started planning for our retirement trip we owned a 2001 Dodge Ram 3500 Diesel Dually and a 2004 Prowler Travel Trailer.  The motor home came into our lives in September 2013 and we sold the truck and travel trailer prior to hitting the road.

Since parks (state and federal) and boon-docking are not within our chosen lifestyle, we needed to find a way to camp cheap.   Our first membership was Passport America.  Passport America is a discount club.  Your rate is up to 50% off the campground rate for at least one night. We purchased the lifetime membership to get the best deal and keep our monthly expenses low once we started traveling.  Both of us worked at the time so the expense was not an issue.  Next we looked into the campground memberships.  We had campground memberships in the past but couldn’t use them to the extent that would have made them worthwhile.  But we were familiar with the concept and being full-time knew that we could get our moneys worth with the proper plan.

Thousand Trails (Encore now) always had nice parks so I researched some of the memberships.  Figured out we wanted an Elite membership so we could go from resort to resort without having to stay ‘out of the system’ for any period of time.  Plus the Elite membership offered 3 weeks of camping per resort.  I started searching online for used memberships and found an Elite Basic membership for $2400 including the transfer fee.  It entitled us to 21 days resort to resort with a $540 annual maintenance fee.  As a ‘used’ membership we did not get ‘all’ of the benefits, but this met our requirements and saved us a lot of money.

As part of the Elite membership we were also able to purchase an RPI Gold membership which allows us to stay in any RPI campground for $10 per night.

These three programs make up the majority of our locations.  I also have Good Sams and am retired military so we can stay at military famcamps when and where available.

We knew we wanted to change our state of residence and had researched it many years ago when we first started living in our RV.  TX, FL and SD are the three most RV friendly states.  Researching the insurance, registrations, inspections, taxes etc will verify that.  I chose SD due to the insurance cost and no vehicle inspection requirements.  Alternative Resources (http://www.alternativeresources.net/) offers the mail box and other services that you will need while on the road.  South Dakota vehicle registration can be done over the web or you can have Alternative Resources do it for you.  Drivers Licenses must be done in person, so that will be our first trip.  To give you an idea on the cost savings, in PA our motor home insurance with Progressive as full-timers was over $3200 a year, in SD it is $975.

With all of this planning out of the way it was time to plan a trip to SD.  I knew we were leaving in July and had to return by Oct (Daisy’s birthday).  So I started with Google to plan a trip from Philadelphia, PA to Sioux Falls, SD.  Books with campgrounds listings for Passport America, RPI, and Thousand Trails were opened, a long with maps and Google was running.  I figured that the most I would drive per day was 300 miles and that I didn’t want to drive straight through.  We were retired after all and wanted to see the country not the roadside signs.

3 days later I had completed the planning.  Yes, 3 days of planning.  Looking at the map figuring out which way to go, then see if any free campgrounds (Thousand Trails) where in the area for the end of the day stop.  If not was there any RPI parks, if not, any Passport America parks, etc.  Then I had to check to see if the motor home would be able to go there (our height is 12 ft 8 inches).  Call the campground to see if they 50 amp service, sewer, water and space for a 39 ft motor home.  If all worked out ok, determine when to make the reservations and the cost of fuel and camping.  It was very stressful process.  Along some Facebook to the rescue.

I figured there had to be a better way, so off to Facebook to find an answer.  I asked people how they plan their trips.  I got the normal response of ‘I don’t plan, we just go until we feel like stopping’ answers.  But someone posted about RV Trip Wizard.  Research the site and signed up.

Redid the trip I planned out over 3 days in just a couple of hours (learning curve included) and saved over $300 dollars in the process.  RV Trip Wizard found campgrounds that were cheaper, closer to my route and told me about road hazards I hadn’t found.  In addition, it kept track of expenses and could be exported to my GPS and Excel Spreadsheet.

For those of you who like to have an idea of where you are going next, I would recommend RV Trip Wizard (http://rvtripwizard.com/)

How to travel full time on a limited budget.

We have been living full time in an RV of one type or another for over 10 years. One of the questions asked a lot is how much does it cost. Now everyone is different, but I thought I would provide some information on what we have found and how it works for us as a guide line to living in an RV.

Full Timers fall into 2 basic categories; Traveling and Stationary. One of these is more expensive than the other, can you guess which one J. For this article I am going to cover the information based on the category of full-timing.

Traveling Full-Timers. This group of RVers travels from place to place depending on many different circumstances. It could be job, adventure, seasons, commitments or any other personal reasons. They may travel hundreds or thousands of miles between stops. Their stays in any one place may be for days, weeks or months at a time. Titles for Traveling RVers include “snow birds”, “workkampers”, or just plain RVers.

Cost for traveling RVers generally are the same for other types of dwellers. You have rent, gas, fuel, insurance, food, clothing, entertainment, bills etc. One of the primary ways to reduce your expenses is by camping in a campground that has a reduced rate for campers. This could be a membership campground, discounts by associations such as Good Sam, AARP, Passport America, or some other organization. You can also reduce your cost by staying in a place for a month or more. Most campgrounds have monthly rates that are about the same as a 10 day stay. For example, if the daily rate is $35 per night and monthly rate might be $350. Another way to reduce your expenses (over time) is to belong to a campground membership. There are several out there, but it seems they are merging into bigger organizations. This is not a bad thing, at least at the moment. An organization that has hundreds of campgrounds, I think is a better deal than one with only 5 or 10 campgrounds, if you are going to be traveling. We belong to a membership organization that has quite a few campgrounds, mainly up and down the East and West Coast. Our stays in the campgrounds are free and include all the utilities. We are limited to 21 days per stay, but can move to another campground and start over again. We essentially live rent free as long as our wonderings allow us to use the campgrounds in the membership.

For those times that we cannot stay in a membership campground we have discount cards that allow us to stay at a reduced rate. The rate can be a percentage off or a flat rate. We have several different discount programs. Resort Park International (RPI) is a hybrid of membership and discount. You have to have a membership in another organization before you can purchase the RPI Discount. The rate of camping in an RPI campground is $10 a night. In our case we can camp for 14 days and then have to move on to another campground. Passport America is a discount club that does not require and memberships in other organizations. It offers a discount of up to 50% off the nightly rate at thousands of campgrounds around the country. Here you simply show your card and save. The Saving can be huge. A few days camping and you could save the price of the program. Save even more by becoming a lifetime member.

Next to campground fees, one of your biggest expenses will probably be fuel. Not much we can do about it other than keep the vehicles in good shape, tires at proper pressure, etc. But we can save a few cents per gallon and earn rewards to put some money back into our pockets. There are several programs out there to save a few cents per gallon. We have a diesel Class A. The tank is 80 gallons and we get about 7-8 MPG. Good Sam has a discount program with Pilot and Flying J that saves $.03 per gallon. It may not seem like much but if you travel full time going 20,000 miles a year, you could save up to $85 or so. Next our credit cards are reward cards as well. We earn 1.5% back on all purchases, even fuel. So that fill up of 60 gallons of diesel just paid back another $3.60. Again the 20,000 miles a year trip would return a little over $171.

Food is another expense for the RV that we all have. One difference for the RV family is that space is limited and the refrigerator is smaller as well. So shopping at the big clubs is not an option for savings. Fortunately, we tend to travel around the country where the weather is warmer. Which means fruits and vegetables are growing. Farmers markets are a great place to save money, get better quality foods and to meet and talk to people about the local area. You can search the web for local farmers markets or go to National Farmers Market Directory (http://nfmd.org) to find one near you.

Lets talk about utilities. Depending on the length of stay, campground and membership used your utilities may be free or you may have to pay for electric, cable and Internet. For us, because of our membership camping, most of our utilities are free. We get 30 Amp electric, water, sewer hookups free at the membership campground and discount campgrounds. We do have a satellite system which we pay for, but may campgrounds offer free cable and you can always use an antenna to capture the over the air local TV stations. Internet is another issue. While many campgrounds are beginning to offer free WIFI, the speed and connections leave a lot to be desired. Some still charge up to $7.50 per day for WIFI. There are solutions available including using your cell phones or dedicated cell phone plans to provide Internet access. They can be very expensive as well. Currently, I do not think there is one solution that meets everyone or even a majority of users requirements.

So what is the solution for us? Internet is important for us on the road. We keep in touch via email, search the web for things to do in the area, entertainment (Hulu, Netflix, etc.), download books, update our blogs and keep up with friends and family via Facebook. So what are the options? First, you cell phone plan will probably have data included. This is the most expensive option. Verizon for example can cost you easily over $150 a month if you stream video once a week along with heavy Internet usage. But for light users it may be the best option as most plans come with 10 GB of data monthly at ‘no additional charge’. Millenicom (www.millenicom.com) is another option for data users. They offer a plan for 20 GB a month for $89. They also use the Verizon Network so they have very good national coverage. Effective May 1, 2014, you can add increments of 20 GB per month to your account if you need more. This is much cheaper than Verizon for the same service. Still this is expensive for a lot of people. The next option would be to use the campground Internet, if it is available. Free is always the better option for those on a budget. But my experience is that campground Internet is usually poor. There are several reasons for this. First is that WIFI is a shared resource, meaning that the more people on it the slower the connection. Second it is distance intolerant. The further away from the antenna you are the worse the signal and your connection. There is not much you can do about the number of people on the network other than try to use it when others are not. Weekdays, early morning or late at night would be the best time. Weekends and evening are the worst time to try to use a shared network. There is something you can do about distance from the antenna. You could select a site close to the antenna. Ask at the office where you could park that would ensure a good signal. Or you could install an antenna and amplifier in your RV that would capture and boost the WIFI. There are several on the market. Word of advice, you want a unit that support 4G WIFI signals. These are new and just coming on the market as of 2014. Many changes in this area due to FCC regulations. The manufacturers have to have the units certified etc. and it is taking them some time. The advantage of having one of these systems installed is that you should be able to pull WIFI signals from up to 2 miles away for your use. The cost of the one we have is around $350 and includes a high gain antenna and amplifier.

The next area would be maintenance. We have full timed for over 10 years. We recently purchased a used Class A that we had to pick up from SC. Not knowing much about the rig, I decided to buy an aftermarket Extended Warranty Program. These programs cover repairs to the rigs when something goes wrong. Now let me say that the companies are in business to make money. In my case, I purchased a year program with a $1000 deductible. The cost of the insurance was about $1300. I will not be renewing it. I have had a change to go over the rig with our mechanic and RV technician. Both have given it a clean bill of health. What we will do is put money away for repairs.

Maintenance is very important for your rig. Annual cleaning and waxing is a must from top to bottom. A good car wash detergent with a liquid wax will do fine. Treating he roof with an appropriate cleaner and conditioner should be done at least once a year. Greasing or servicing the jack will keep them in working order for years to come. Depending on the type of rig (motorized) you may need to do oil changes, etc. just like on a car. I found that AMSOIL works well. 25,000 mile oil changes for full timers mean once a year oil change.

So there you have it, how to travel full time on a limited budget.  It can be done.  Those of you that are still working, can find work on the road.  I will write about it in another article.  Those that have a limited income, it can be done.

 

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 (http://rvtripwizard.com/) 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.