When Mark and I decided to sell our house and travel full time, we decided he would be in charge of the truck and trailer and be the driver. He describes himself as the “Driver and Baggage Handler.” My strengths are not in the realm of RV maintenance or set up. I am the trip planner – where to go, how long to stay and what to see. I love researching travel possibilities. I read anything I can find on the places we are planning to go. For me, deciding where to stay is probably the hardest part of traveling.
When we left California I had a general idea of the route I wanted us to take across the United States. Our plan was to travel to the Midwest and explore through the states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. In November I wanted to head south into Louisiana for the month and then travel into Mississippi. By early December, I hoped to reach Alabama and Florida so we could be in the warmer gulf states for the winter. So far our time frame is working out fairly well although I can see how easy it is to get distracted when I want to stay longer in the states we travel through. I find myself often thinking how nice it would be to take a different direction from our route, or spend more time checking out other towns and nearby cities. In a way, it is helpful to have upcoming colder weather keeping us on schedule as we don’t want to experience a snowy winter in the trailer!
I don’t make camping reservations way ahead of time, because I want the flexibility to change our itinerary. Booking too far in advance would make the trip rigid and limit our possibilities. I usually make reservations several days to a week in advance for the next stop and rarely go beyond that. Only once did I make a reservation for the same day and that was for a quick overnight stop. We have never showed up at an RV park with the hope that they have a vacancy. That would make the trip too stressful.
I am so thankful to live in the internet age. I can’t imagine traveling without all the information that is available. The ability to look up potential places with my IPhone wherever I may be is priceless. It is so much easier to compare the different RV parks and decide which looks better for us. I always rely on reviews from other travelers with Trip Advisor my favorite resource. I am a big fan of Trip Advisor and really appreciate being able to read what other people have experienced. I also check reviews on the Good Sam site as well as Yahoo or Yelp if Trip Advisor does not have many reviews. In addition I check the websites of the parks to see what they offer as far as locations and amenities. Photos are very helpful, both on Trip Advisor and park websites. We also use google maps for aerial views of the park and surrounding area. You Tube can be a great resource as a number of parks have videos by the owners or by visitors and they give a good idea of how the park is laid out and amenities. Below is a picture of the clubhouse at the lovely park we stayed at in Sparks/Reno area. Clubhouses are great for a place to hang out away from the trailer, but only a few places we have stayed at have had them.
If an RV park does not have a helpful website and there are few informative reviews, then I probably won’t book a stay there. It is a little intimidating for me to call and book a park that I know very little about. Only one time while traveling through Nevada did we book a site by phone for one night and when we got to the site just couldn’t stay there. The rest of the parks where we have stayed have been good and met our needs.
The first impression upon entering a park can be meaningful. Some parks seem great right away but a few have not. One example is a KOA park in Petaluma, California where we stayed a year ago. Although the park was very highly rated, I didn’t have a good feeling shortly after driving in. That feeling stayed with me the whole weekend. Below is a picture of a park in Carthage, Missouri that I really liked from the moment we drove in.
When I read reviews, I know that the experiences of some RVers are not necessarily important to us. For example, one common complaint is that the Wifi was poor or non-existent. We have our own hot spot so as long as there is phone reception we have internet connection. (Yeah to Matt for the suggestion!). Only one time have we not had phone reception or internet connection. We have decided that if at times we do not have good connections we will just make do, either without the reception or by driving into town where there is a connection. Another complaint is the poor state of the bathrooms including shower facilities. As we are fully self contained this is not a concern for us. Poor customer service at parks annoys some reviewers and I agree that can be a let down. We experienced that once in our travels and it did make our stay not as pleasant.
My first concern in choosing a park is location as I want us to be fairly close to the attractions and sights where we plan to spend time. The second consideration is does the park have full hookups (power, water and sewer). So far we have always stayed at full hook up parks. Some day we plan to boondock at a spot without hookups, maybe even braving a Walmart parking lot. Lastly, I think about the size of the sites. If people complain about how small and close the sites are, that is a concern for us. Being jammed up close to another RV is not comfortable and takes away from the camping experience. This happened to us the very first time we took our first trailer out. We camped in the historic gold rush town of Columbia, California. Our site was so small that we had three RV’s closely surrounding us, almost close enough to touch. Luckily everyone was pretty quiet and polite. The picture below is from Kansas. This park had the largest amount of space between RV’s of any place we have stayed. As a bonus there was lots of green grass. What a great place!
One of my pet peeves – RV parks are often near major highways or roads. I get tired of listening to the noise and want to be in a more secluded location. Unfortunately that is where most parks are located so I am learning to deal with it. Another noise issue for some can be trains. Luckily Mark and I love trains so while many of our sites lately have been within earshot of trains, we don’t mind and even enjoy hearing them pass by. The track below ran right by our site in Independence.
One of the fun things about full time RVing is the anticipation of what the next place will be like and that keeps it fresh. All in all, there is something good about every park we have stayed at. If nothing else, they are the means for us to be able to explore and learn about a new area. I realize that our traveling is not about the RV parks but the experiences that we have wherever we land. Making a decision about which park to stay might be difficult, but once we arrive and unhook that trailer, there are new things for us to see and I am excited for the opportunity!
Thanks for reading and commenting! In my next post I hope to write about finishing up Nebraska and heading to Kansas.