Monday, December 4, 2023


Reader letter – First RV trip a disaster!

By Gary Hammond

Last summer was our first time to “camp” in an RV. For 15 years, we had only been in tent trailers. We began our “new RV life” in local campgrounds and popular Provincial campgrounds (like State Parks) that we had been to many times before.

But last October we decided to go to New Point, VA, for a few weeks. It would be our first big trip in our RV. We printed out the route from Google Maps, and loaded it into our truck’s “Nav” system a couple of nights before departure.

Good to go – right?

We got off to a great start on departure day, and started heading south. Google had plotted to take us almost through Baltimore, and just around Washington, D.C.

How bad could it be? We were traveling in the daytime and not around rush hour.

It was horrible! We got stuck in traffic jams, got lost several times, and the navigator (my wife) and I were headed for certain divorce.

I was ready to sell the RV (and my wife).

The trip down took almost 22 hours. We spent two nights in Walmart parking lots.

Once at the RV resort, we were guided to a seaside site that was no more than the climb of a dune from the ocean. It was beautiful! We ended up staying there 3 full weeks.

The anger of the trip immediately faded, and we quickly fell back in love.

The next day we had a “lessons learned” discussion, and concluded we were totally ill-prepared for such a trip. We had spent almost no time at all with trip planning and navigation. We didn’t even have road maps: just a Google Maps printout of directions and a few basic maps (of Harrisburg, PA, and New Point, VA) that could hardly be read.

After speaking to locals, we learned that we had gone TOTALLY the WRONG way. They showed us a different route back, avoiding all the big cities, still stopping overnight at the Walmart in Harrisburg, PA, and the entire trip took just over 11 hours total – half the time, and absolutely none of the stress or frustration.

What will be different this year?

We now have the “2018 Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas” with detailed road maps of of Canada, the USA, and Mexico, with all trucker (and RV) friendly roads (no low bridges or overpasses) highlighted. If “all else fails” we will have that to fall back on. We are also in the process of buying an Android 10″ tablet and RV navigation software, like CoPilot or SmartRVRoute.

We are admitting to last years’ total unpreparedness and have acknowledged how important it is to properly plan before traveling! 

Gary Hammond




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Wolfe (@guest_27843)
5 years ago

I’ll (dodecatuple?) all the advice to love your GPS only as far as you can see ahead for yourself. When I started driving my quad-cab pickup towing a 35′ trailer all over east of the Rockies, I got a “proper” RV-specific GPS for trip routing since I knew I’d be in unfamiliar places, off the highways, usually on a time schedule. On the very first trip around the Northeast, I found myself coming to a dead-stop on a single-lane road in Maine, where both sides of the road had 10′ rock retaining walls and ahead of me was a HARD 90* bend in the road, still bounded by those picturesque but deadly walls. The GPS was cheerfully goading me to “Continue for X miles!” where even a fullsize sedan could find making that bend somewhat dicey. I’m pretty good backing up my rig, but ended up backing at least a 1/4 mile before I could “borrow” a local’s dirt driveway to T-turn. That suicidal GPS went back that night from the next campsite’s mailbox service.

I’ve actually had fairly good luck with Google Maps (surprisingly?), especially if I use data-hungry “satellite view” to see what I’m REALLY driving into instead of data-conserving rounded-out approximations. As others have mentioned GM is (originally) subject to having cell service — but just go into the menu and enable “Offline Maps” and it will buffer a swath of the local area around you whenever it does get service. If you’re a long-haul “destination” driver like myself, it can also help to pre-emptively download offline maps while you have WiFi, but that’s optional.

While long, my trailer only stands 10’6″ to the AC cowling, so happily I’ve only encountered a clearance issue once (the highway along Lake Ontario north of Rochester, NY is a 4 lane “highway” with 9′ arched bridges… say WHAT?). Here in the Northeast, much more often than clearance issues, I run into GVCW weight limits on rural roads, often in the “last 10 miles” to an “RV campground.”

Doc Jack (@guest_25064)
5 years ago

An excellent option for tablet users is CoPilot RV for 59.99. It includes a database of campgounds, although not very detailed. It also lets you input your rig’s size an weight to avoid roads you cannot use. The maps can be loaded to a SIM card in your tablet to save main storage. Once installed, no WiFi or cell connection is needed to navigate. Another useful feature is the ability to show alternate routes (like Google Maps does) with their mileage and estimated travel time.

Chris kiser (@guest_24992)
5 years ago

My husband never looks at a map, plan a trip . He just gets into the truck and starts driving. We have a Big Sky 40 ft. 5th wheel. Everything is left up to me, so therefore I’m always looking at a map, wase,google map and never get to enjoy a trip. If I tell him to go right, you can bet he will go left and ask me to trust him. Yea right!!!
All our trips have turned into nightmares. I am considering quitting camping and travel altogether. We just retired with dreams of traveling almost year round, but now I am so discouraged. So it’s great when a couple can sit down and plan a trip together. We’ve been traveling for about 15 years on and off. So I guess
what they say is true. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks????

Gene Bjerke (@guest_24875)
5 years ago

We must be the odd ones. When we take a trip, we first lay out the general route on a large-scale map (such as an AAA Southeast map). We also get state maps (AAA again, but we prefer the ones you get at state Welcome Centers). On the road the navigodess follows our track. We only use GPS for finding locations (groceries, drug stores, etc,) in strange towns, or for the last bit to a particular campground. Works well for us.

Morag (@guest_25003)
5 years ago
Reply to  Gene Bjerke

We have traveled from Virginia to New Mexico last year and plan to head for Arizona this fall.
We have a GPS that is decent but since I am the navigator I have a Rand McNally road map, a Rand McNally Truckers map and above all I never go anywhere without my trusty Next Exit for extra information.

Larry Large (@guest_24870)
5 years ago

I invested in a the Rand McNally GPS designed for RV use. It lets us record our motorhome’s details – height, weight, size of propane tank, length of rig with towed vehicle. So far it has worked pretty good. It has a generous set of POIs and lets us get more if we wish. In spite of all that, we still carry paper maps with us and as Cal Bridges mentioned we stop that the welcome centre in each new state we enter.
The GPS comes with free life time updates and the updates are quick and easy to download and apply. We update ours frequently. The GPS also contains data on construction areas so you can avoid them. I could say lots more about our RV’s GPS but it’s all available online.

Cal Bridgers (@guest_24857)
5 years ago

We “all” started at “zero” and graadually worked our way up the hill. Being a Navy retiree I’ve been across this vast country of ours many times and, too, learned the hard way to get paper maps. Most states will provide them free of charge. First state visitor center is a must stop. However, a great road atlas is even better.

When I got my first GPS I just plugged in a start/finish and “foolishly” put the paper maps to the side.

Not anymore. I found the GPS can cause as much trouble as my navigator. But, I did learn to go into the website of my GPS manufacturer and use their program to map out a route and save it. Then I review it (with paper maps/road atlas in hand) taking time to figure out gas stops and CGs along the route along with rest areas. Only then do I load the map to the GPS.

With the loaded route I have everything I need come up on the map as we travel the route. Used it on a motorcycle trip to Alaska and Canada two years ago and only checked maps once or two and that was when I decided to go “off track”.

Oh, my current GPS is a TomTom Rider. It is a motorcycle GPS but its programming is great and I move it between the Vegas RV and my Gold Wing trike.

DMason (@guest_24843)
5 years ago

As long as you stay within the “civilized” parts of the world, the tablet with navigation should work. But there are lots of places that are “dark” in terms of wifi, cell service, etc, where that might not be any help at all. We live in the wilder areas and often have no digital contact for long stretches in our daily lives and in our travels.

Ed Killgore (@guest_24833)
5 years ago

We stand 13′-4″ when rolling down the highway and we’re grossing over 26,000 lbs. Before we hit the road I consult our Road Carrier’s Atlas and then compare the route to what the Garmin suggests. I avoid major congested areas paying particular attention to the time of day that I might possibly have to drive through these areas. I never go anywhere without having a printout of the reservations in our truck, and I always have reservations. And, when I reach the campground I take it slow and easy, watching for low overhangs etc. Before I back up, my wife is standing at the rear of the camper with her walkie-talkie in hand. If it is a campsite that I don’t feel comfortable trying to get into, I head to the office and we have a talk. And finally, I enter all of this into a diary that I religiously maintain and frequently consult.

Tommy Molnar (@guest_24819)
5 years ago

Randy’s last line says it all. NEVER go anywhere without ‘old fashioned’ paper maps! You know, the ones all gas stations used to give away free just for the asking . . .

Randy Horshok (@guest_24764)
5 years ago

Buying a Garmin (or other GPS unit) can also be a great dual benefit. My wife is not much of a mapreader, so the Garmin gives me great directions (even when we’ve used it in Europe!), plus it saves me/us a lot of aggravation & stress of asking her for routes, options, detours, etc. A new Garmin runs anywhere from $100 and up, and will save you countless problems. (PS–keep the maps/books, too).

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