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How I Make Campground Reservations

If you travel full-time in an RV, or want to travel across multiple states, or stay at multiple campgrounds on a vacation, some of my scheduling steps may be of help to you. It can also be challenging to find campgrounds when you’re rolling down the road with 76 feet of camping gear. Even longer once we are unhitched. Plus, we have the 9-foot tote attached to the back of our 40-foot fifth wheel, a Smart Car and 2 Can-Am Spyder motorcycles.

CAMPGROUNDS ARE FULL

RV Sales have been skyrocketing and manufacturers are struggling to meet the demand after being shut down during the Covid Pandemic. RVing is becoming the go-to vacation for many families coming out of the lockdown. This may lead to 46 million Americans taking RV trips this next year according to the RV Industry Association.


Marathon Coach predicts its sales will increase by 30% compared to last year. According to latest RV Industry statistics, there was a 47% increase in sales December 2020 vs 2019. While Jim and Kelly Stockman from Suite Travels was visiting a KOA in Montana, the host stated that they have had a 300% increase in reservations.


ARE YOU FEELING LUCKY?

I know people, with and without long setups, that don’t make reservations in advance and try their luck. Depending on the time of year, where they are located and mid-week versus weekend, this may work. Sometimes you can get awesome spots due to cancellations. However, I’m a planner and like my ducks in row before we go. That way, it is one less thing I have to worry about. I like to plan way ahead especially with the increase in RVers and the fact that we will not fit in many campground sites.


STEPS I TAKE TO PLAN OUR TRIPS

I will admit, being the size we are, it takes a lot of work to plan a trip. It can take me hours of planning…many hours. But in the end, it is worth it. We choose to travel with our type of set-up, so I know and expect that it will take me a lot of time. Here are my steps:

1. Determine where we are going for the entire trip whether it is for months or for a few weeks

2. Get the right planning tools together (trip planner, Excel calendar and hard calendar)

3. Determine the route with no more than 5 hours of driving time between each stop

4. Research, research, research: websites for discounts, campground reviews, satellite views and maps

5. Communication

6. Make Reservations as far out as possible

7. Keep notes on each of the campgrounds


1. WHERE ARE WE GOING?

I determine our trip depending on if we’re going to a rally, family event, specific tourist location(s), group/membership gathering, to get a repair done, just trying to get out of the cold or heat, or a combination of these.


For example, we need to travel from Georgia to Indiana to get some repairs done and then back to Georgia again. This is a 12-hour trip one-way in a car with no stopping. Obviously, we will need to set up several stops on the way. Then we have to decide if we want to take our time getting there or bee-line it. Since we have a specific day that we are scheduled for repairs, I will start with the scheduled repair date and work backwards to determine our route to meet our appointment.

As you probably know we have a Thousand Trails/Encore membership along with Passport America, RPI, Good Sam and a 50% senior discount for United States Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) campgrounds and Federal Parks. We have not stay in state campgrounds to date due to our size. Those are the campgrounds that I will research along our route first. If you have an Escapee, KOA, or other memberships, or prefer state campgrounds, you would obviously consider those too. If you like to boondock, there are several websites to help you find those locations.


For a bigger example, we plan to go to a Spyder Rally in South Carolina at the end of September and then work our way to Quartzsite, AZ in time for a few days at the Big RV Show January 22 – 30, 2022. Then we plan to stay up to a month in Quartzsite and then work our way back home to GA for a couple months on our houseboat. This trip will be over 6 months long. After that, I will plan a trip out west during the summer to check out the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Sturgis and more.

Note: If you plan trips to areas that you know are very busy, you many need to make your reservations a year or more in advance. Especially if you like to stay for extended periods of time.


2. PLANNING TOOLS

Since most trips are time based to some respect, I use two programs to track and record our route and campground stops. I use:


a. Goodsam.com’s “Plan a Trip” https://www.goodsam.com/trip-planner (you have to be a member to use this). I like this program because I found it user-friendly and you can put up to 26 locations in it and move the locations around or easily change them. You can also see how many miles and hours are in between each stop.

b. Excel free calendar https://www.vertex42.com/calendars/. I like this program because it automatically generates the months you want and you can enter information in it as you see fit. I use slashes to indicate departure/arrival days. I make the reservation red, once it is confirmed.


We generally like to travel on Sundays through Thursdays. Sundays, because traffic is lighter and most people leave campgrounds on Sundays. Monday – Thursdays because more campsites are usually available since most people camp on weekends.


There are trip planning freebies available (or at least a free trial), so check out:

· Rvtripwizard.com

· Roadtrippers.com

Obviously, you can use Google Maps too, but I find the Trip Planners work best as Google Maps only allow 9 stops. You can also search Google for free trip planners.


Once I have my Excel calendar completed, I post it on our website: wattsonwheels.info. This way, others can see where we have been, where we are and where we are going. This also provides me a way to use my phone to see our schedule.

c. Hard calendar: I use At-A-Glance #G400 to record our campground stops, doctor appointments, birthdays, and other information. I have our schedule on the Excel calendar, however, having a hard calendar is most convenient for me. It may be old school, but it is a quick way for me to see what is going on, where we will be and where we have been. I use slash lines to indicate departing one location and arriving at another, even if it is Walmart for overnight boondocking. I place a checkmark on the reservation once it is confirmed. I record the information onto the hard calendar after I have it figured out on the Excel calendar because I can move campsites around easily in Excel and not wear out an eraser.


3. DETERMINE THE ROUTE

a. Start and End Point: I start by telling the trip planner my start location and my end location.

From there, I start looking at places we might like to go to in between these two locations. The following is an actual trip that I am putting together for next fall and winter and know we want to stay South for warmer weather.


We want to take our time traveling between these two locations (September to April) and determined that we would like to be in San Benito, Texas for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. From there I look at my timing and try to space out stops that are further South where it is warmer.


I can sort of tell an approximate area to search for a campground just by the spacing on a map via the Trip Planner or using Google Maps. What I mean by that is when planning this trip, I can tell the approximate spacing between stops to be around a 4-hour trip.


b. Cell Phone (Google): I like to double check the distance between campgrounds via Google so that the trips from one campground to the next is around 4 hours. I use the cell phone while making route plans just to quickly find out how far and long the trip is from one campground city to the next. This is quicker than scrolling through the trip planner. “Hey Google, how far is it from Collinsville, MS to Covington, LA?”. If it is over 5 hours, I will look for another city to shorten the trip.


For example, to stay further south in the winter while traveling to Quartzsite, I have chosen these locations (once I found campgrounds) and you can see how tong the travel times are between each stop.


4. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH

I like to save money, check campground reviews, look at satellite views of campgrounds and use google maps to see what is in the area.

a. Campgrounds and Length of Stay:

Once I have the general route figured out, I start to look for campgrounds within about 4 hours of driving distance from one campground/stop to the next. I work out the timing as described above.


I use the Excel Calendars to determine how long to stay at each campground to meet our schedule. We are not 2–3-day campers. We like to stay at one location for at least 5 days, preferably 1 to 2 weeks depending on the area and circumstances for the stay.


· I first look at Thousand Trails/Encore campgrounds since we have a membership. Of course, they will not be available in many areas.

· Our next choice is United States Army Corp of Engineers campgrounds as they are roomy, have great views and we get 50% off with our Senior America the Beautiful Lifetime Membership. We make those reservations via recreation.gov.

· Our next choice is RPI of which we have a membership, where we can get campgrounds for as little as $10 a night, but they vary in price as well.

· Our next choice is Passport America of which we have a membership, where many campgrounds are 50% off. However, each campground has its own rules on how many days and what time of year they accept the discount.

· Our next choice is Good Sam campgrounds where you always get 10% off.

· Don’t forget to look for military discounts too.


Return Trip:


b. Campground Reviews and Satellite Views:

· Once I think I have found a campground in the area that we want to stay, I check out their website and review their campground map, read reviews on campendium.com, allstays.com, and through a google search.

· Another favorite place for me to find out more information about a campground is YouTube videos. Some of the most honest reviews will be found here by other campers. Many times, we can get an idea of how wide the roads are and the layout of the campground along with their amenities via these videos.

· The next step is to check the campground on Google Earth. This provides a view of the campground layout, how long the sites look and how wide the roads are. Also, you can see if there are going to be a lot of trees to deal with.

· If we need a one-night stay, we will usually locate a Walmart on Allstays.com. This has worked well for us as we can use their restrooms if we want and we always stock up on groceries. I always call the Walmart in advance to make sure it is OK to stay there and if they have a preference of where we park.

5. COMMUNICATION

Many times, I will email a campground via the address given on their website to see if they can accommodate us. I include a picture of our set up so they can see how we have a semi-tractor and fifth wheel with tote. Most of the time, they say they can take us, but we may have to park the truck in an overflow parking lot.

Many times, I will call and describe our set up and see if they can accommodate us. We find that most campground hosts are very helpful.


If you have pets or special needs, discuss them with the Hosts/Ranger prior to making your reservations if possible.


I have even contacted the Hosts at Army Corp of Engineer campgrounds and talked to a Ranger as to what sites would work best for us as we like to back in as straight as possible. We even had one Ranger email us pictures of sites he thought would work for us.

When we arrive, no matter how tired we are, I always smile and am very pleasant with the hosts. We have even ended up around the hosts campfire, had them drop off firewood by surprise and tell us places to visit or eat in the area.


6. MAKING RESERVATIONS

With the number of RVers out on the road, and our set up, I try to make our reservations as far in advance as possible. It just gives me peace of mind. For the USACE campgrounds, it is usually 6 months and you can choose your specific site.


Our Thousand Trails membership allows us to make reservations 120 days in advance, with Encore and RPI campgrounds 60 days in advance. Even with the memberships, many times I will call in advance to make sure they can accommodate us before I make the reservation.


Passport America and Good Sam reservations can be made any time. Be sure to ask about their cancellation policy to see what their timing is for cancelling and if there is a cost associated with it.


I put a reminder in my electronic calendar (Outlook) to let me know when I need to make a reservation. For example, if I need to make a reservation 60 days before the arrival date, I get a notification to make the reservation on time via my electronic calendar.

7. CAMPGROUND NOTES

I record my confirmation information, check in and check out times, site info, special directions and any other pertinent information on my hard calendar. I also have a Campground Schedule excel spreadsheet to track my trips.


I record my experience at the campground on my Campground Review Excel Spreadsheet. This includes cost, savings, site number, amenities, type of site, local area places to go, who we met, other sites that we’d like if we were to return, etc. I also keep a Report Card on each campground and give it a grade. I do this after the fact, so that I can go back to the spreadsheet and report card to see how we liked the campground. This has been very handy.

Check out the video about our costs to RV Full Time and our other RVing Spreadsheets


You can purchase our spreadsheets for only $9.95 by clicking here.







It seems that the number of campgrounds is not keeping up with the number of RVers out there which is growing like crazy. So, my recommendation is to plan ahead and make your reservations early. I hope this Blog has helped. Easiest way to communicate with us is via email at 2wattsonwheels@gmail.com. Thanks for reading and don't forget to subscribe to our website.

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