Travel Resources

A lot of time and effort goes into planning our trips.  Many people we've met throughout our travels have asked me how I locate where to camp, the best hiking, etc.  "How do you prepare for all this?"  I have a lot of excellent resources I keep at my fingertips.


WHERE TO HIKE?


Hiking is our activity of choice.  Where we go is usually based on the hiking available or the scenic value in that location.  I start with atlases; yes, actual map books.  Remember books and paper?  For me, these work best.  We buy Benchmark Maps & Atlases.  We prefer these maps because they show a lot of backroads (dirt roads), where the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land is (free, public land for camping), and they list national/state parks/recreation areas, points of interest, natural wonders, etc., in other words, interesting places to go.  The list includes golfing, big attractions and RV parks too, not just nature.  We keep our atlases at the ready when traveling as they are now all colour-coded.  I've highlighted places we want to visit or have visited, where free or very cheap RV camping is available, and where free or cheap RV dumps are located.  Unfortunately, not all state maps are available (yet?), but we travel in the US southwest, and all the relevant maps are for sale.  Atlases can be purchased on the Benchmark website, and often in park visitor centres.

The internet is obviously another excellent source.  When I identify a park we want to visit, I go on that website and list all the hikes and scenic drives in a spreadsheet.  I do this because we often revisit a park many years later and, believe it or not, we forget which trail(s) we did last time!  I've started keeping track and it's helping us avoid getting part way along a trail and saying "I recognize this!"

Hiking Links and Resources:


WHERE TO CAMP?


We like free camping.  If we can't find camping for free, then we look for really cheap camping.  We don't like RV parks, not because we don't like the amenities, but because most parks cram rigs tightly together in order to maximize space (and profit).  Our goal on these trips is solitude; enjoying nature without the hustle and bustle of cities and crowds.  If we can't find free or cheap camping, then we'll opt for a state or national park campground which usually provide more distance between campsites.  Since our trailer is fully self-contained with solar panels, a generator, an 85-gallon fresh water tank, and grey/black holding tanks, we don't need hookups.  If you don't mind the crowding or you enjoy being in a resort with lots of activities and people, then there is usually a selection of RV parks near attractions to choose from.  We do carry Passport America (50% off select RV parks) and Good Sam (10% off select RV parks) discount cards, just in case.

Now that we have several years of experience in the southwest, we are pretty familiar with where we can camp, given our size and geometry (a fifth-wheel trailer has different requirements from a 40-foot bus or 18-foot travel trailer).  But we do occasionally visit somewhere new, and I have a few great resources to help me find a place to stay.

Camping Links and Resources:

  • freecampsites.net website - search by city or locate on a map.  This is my "go to" website.  I wish they had an app - maybe soon.  A GPS location accompanies the description of each campsite, which I note in the margin on our Benchmark Atlas.
  • Frugal RV Travel - PDF guides for a small fee by state.  These guides are very helpful to find camping, dump stations, and hiking.  Marianne and Randy(Canadians btw) have scoured the southwest and created an extensive list indicating RV size, as well as lots of other helpful tips for boondocking.  These guides are updated fairly regularly and once you purchase a guide, updates are free.
  • AllStays has a series of apps (fee required) for your tablet or smartphone that help identify cheap or free camping (state parks, forestry service campgrounds, county parks, etc.) as well as free overnight parking like at Walmart.  They also have an app showing rest areas and service centres with their respective amenities.
  • Ultimate Campgrounds is another app (fee required) and website that shows free and cheap camping.  I have not used this site as extensively as freecampsites.net, but I might in the future given that they have an app which makes life so much easier on the road.  
  • Sanidumps is a must-have app if you boondock like we do.  It shows you where the nearest RV dumps and fresh water stations are, although many national and state parks and even private RV parks allow you to dump and fill for a small fee (sometimes even free). 

COMMUNICATIONS:


As an RVer, you will probably already know, or soon discover, that all plans are "jello".  Even the best-laid plans are subject to change.  It's helpful to be able to research on-the-fly which means having access to the internet.  During our first few months, we relied on MacDonald's free Wi-Fi, but that quickly became a recipe for disaster.  So we eventually signed up with a U.S. cell phone carrier (Verizon) and got a cell phone that provided a hot spot to which to tether our computer.

Now, of course, smart phones have eased the process considerably and we have recently upgraded to a basic smart phone and plan with 6 Gb of data and calling/texting to anywhere in North America (so that includes our friends and family at home in Canada) for $60/month still with Verizon.  Your needs may vary so be sure to review plans carefully to make sure you are covered.


USEFUL BLOGS:
  • My favourite blog to read is Wheeling It.  Nina has a lovely writing style and covers a wide range of places.  She includes reviews of most campgrounds from free boondocking sites to exquisite RV resorts.
  • Marianne's blog on her Frugal RV Travel website.  Marianne and Randy love to travel and have covered the map from Costa Rica to the Maritimes.

OTHER USEFUL APPS:


Another useful app/website we use is GasBuddy.  Prices aren't always competitive, and we have found fuel up to $0.10 per US gallon cheaper in a stretch of road thanks to GasBuddy.

Although we typically use our Garmin GPS, Waze is useful as a navigation tool.  It provides current traffic and road conditions based on other users' input.

During our next trip, I plan to start using some hiking apps.  A friend has recommended the "Hiking Project" from REI as well as "Gaia GPS: Topo Maps and Trails" from TrailBehind.Inc, but I haven't used them and can't comment on them - yet!


The key to a successful trip is planning.  Even if you don't know where you'll be next week, the battle is easily won if you know how to get to the resources that will help you figure it out.

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