By: Michelle Luttrell
When we first started our RV living, I began using a website called RV Trip Wizard. I still use it, but I do so in a different way. This site was $29 per year to use [recently up to $49] and it will connect to the RV Pro app which is an RV friendly GPS. I enter some preferences about the RV (height, are we carrying propane, avoid tunnels, etc.) then enter my starting location and our ultimate destination. This gives me a route we can follow that's safe for our rig. Once I can see my route, I can then search for various places along the way such as campgrounds, Walmarts, Bass Pros, etc. When we headed out west, though, it was abundantly clear that something was missing. I couldn’t search for boondocking spots effectively. RV Trip Wizard has a BLM (Bureau of Land Management) filter, but it doesn’t touch half of the free camping that is available.
I’m not sure exactly where we first heard of Campendium, but it has been a fantastic resource for us. You can download the Campendium app on your phone, enter a location and it will pull up so many free campsite options along with dump stations and overnight parking. Campendium was recently purchased by Togo a route planning app that we have not experienced yet. I'm not sure how this will change the app we currently use. Regardless, as of now, Campendium is a great resource, but what makes it so valuable are the people that review the destinations. If you are in a van or a Class B or even a small C you can get just about anywhere, but if you are in a 35-foot 5th wheel or Class A, you depend on those reviews. Often times you can start down a road of free camping options and quickly realize this may not have been the best idea because the roads are rutted out, there isn’t a place to turn around or the overhanging trees are getting stuck in your AC units. Reading the reviews of travelers in rigs similar to yours is beyond helpful. It gives you some peace of mind as you may be driving blind into a forest or up a mountain.
Ok, back to my trip planning. When we headed south for a first snowbird winter, I had planned every stop. As we were going from Texas to Florida there were a number of times I thought, “If we didn’t have a paid reservation, we could stop here for free.” Now, typically on this trip it was a rest stop or a store parking lot that we would just be sleeping in for the night, but it would’ve saved us a couple hundred dollars as those $35-$45 nights tend to add up. Planning our trip out west was much different, but even with the fewer reservations made, we've still made changes along the way. We noticed some states are much more RV friendly than others. For example, when we entered South Dakota, we noticed rest stops had RV dump stations. Wyoming has some wonderful rest areas with dumpsters, potable water and dump stations all for free or for a donation.
Out of 112 days of being out west I booked 44 days at an actual campground. I canceled at least two different campground reservations because we found great free boondocking spots and we just wanted to stay where we were. That means we camped for free for over two months. What!? We searched the area we wanted to go in order to see where could we get water and dump our black tank on our way to our next stop. It does take some effort, but when you are out west these great spots, free water, and dump stations are easy to find with a good app like Campendium. It’s important to have a framework of a plan, but planning everything is time consuming and not necessarily worth it if you are a full-timer or traveling west for a long period of time.
Usually, the best route is the unplanned one.
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