There are broadly three ways to go about RV trip planning.
There’s the regimented, highly organized, color coordinated and heavily researched and implemented itineraries that plan out every last detail.
Then there’s the loosely pieced together idea of an RV trip, where the emphasis is placed on getting from A to B and what happens in between can be decided along the way.
The last camp falls somewhere in between the two extremes.
Whatever type of RV trip planning you prefer, using a trip planning app can save you time, money and alleviate a lot of the stress involved.
Planning an RV trip involves art as well as science. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the sheer amount of choices you have available to you.
I’m quite a disorganized person (my wife is far better at planning than I am), so I’ll take as much help as I can get when it comes to planning our next road trip.
Since I’m also a techie at heart, I like to use gadgets and technology to help.
I also don’t feel like I’m penned into our plans, if I want to take a diversion to check out something that piques my interest, then the RV trip planning app needs to accommodate this.
Luckily for me, creating and implementing an amazing RV trip using a planner is easier than ever with the use of apps.
I’ve gone over the most popular RV planning trip apps available with a fine tooth comb and rated them against my criteria of ease of use, usefulness, flexibility, and cost. I’ve also included some RV trip planning tips that I think everyone that owns an RV should know.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the best RV route planners out there.
The Best RV Trip Planner Apps
If you’re scoffing at my first choice and you’re about to click away, bear with me a minute.
Google maps certainly have its limitations, however, it can be combined with google earth to create a powerful visualization tool. If you like to see a route before settings off, in particular focusing on areas of interest such as potential low bridges, steep inclines or narrow roads.
If you first plan out your route on google maps, you can then export it to a KML and import it into Google Earth.
Once imported you can then use the full suite of Google Earth tools, including viewing Panoramio photos along with your route.
I wouldn’t recommend using Google Earth and Maps as your primary RV trip planning tool, but its great a tool to have in your arsenal to supplement whatever you’re already doing.
In the video below you can see how to export Google Map files to KMP and then import them into Google Earth:
Despite what you might think, Garmin is still relevant today, especially if you’re towing or driving oversized vehicles.
Development on Garmin BaseCampe was stopped a couple of years ago, but it’s still available to download and use, and in my opinion, is quite useful.
Garmin Basecamp was designed to allow the planning and sharing of road trips. The biggest advantage of BaseCamp was the introduction of RV and Truck modes.
These two modes allow you to avoid roads that would be difficult to drive along in an RV, including avoiding low bridges, steep inclines, and narrow inner city streets.
However, its database is incomplete, so you will need to supplement the information it presents to you with additional research, which is a bit of a pain.
If you already own a Garmin GPS unit then there’s no reason not to give BaseCamp a go and see for yourself what it can do.
I think you’d have a hard time completely relying on BaseCamp to manage all of your RV trip planning.
Its trip planning capabilities are based around dates and spending x amount of days at each location, which goes against the flexibility I would expect from an RV trip planning app.
The amount of time I spend in each location might rapidly change, depending on how well I like any one location. If that sounds like you as well, then you might find BaseCamp slightly clunky to use.
If you don’t already have a Good Sam membership, then its something you should definitely consider, even if it’s just for access to the Good Sam’s Trip Planner.
Membership for a single year costs $29, but if you buy more than a year, then you can secure yourself a discount. At the time of writing this article, it costs $75 for 3 years, plus you’ll receive some freebies.
My very first RV trip was in 2014, and at the time I used physical maps and whatever information I could piece together from the internet. Needless to say, it was hard work.
Then at the tail end of 2014, I discovered the Good Sam Trip Planner and it just worked, making what was previously time-consuming and often mentally taxing task much simpler.
It’s probably one of the best RV trip planning tools available, it looks good, it’s intuitive to use and it does a mostly respectable job at avoiding things such as low bridges or roads that could be considered difficult to navigate.
Creating a trip on the Good Sam Trip Planner could not be simpler, and involves all of the two clicks. Once you’ve populated the application with a few details, you’ll be able to add additional details and work on more in-depth planning from within the trip planning interface.
The trip planning interface contains five separate tabs:
- Trip Manager
- My Trips
- Things to Do
I found that the Trip Manager is where I spend most of my time when planning a route. However, you’ll probably end up using all sections once you really get going.
Thankfully the campgrounds tab is not restricted to just Good Sam RV parks, it contains many private campgrounds as well public campgrounds in addition to Good Sam locations.
From a budgeting point of view, the ability to estimate the mileage, time and the cost for gas in an invaluable addition. Despite enjoying traveling, I like to keep the amount of time driving to a minimum. So, being able to see that a particular leg of a journey may take 8 hours, we may opt to split up into two trips.
Plus being able to see the cost of each leg is a big help when we cant to stick to a particular budget.
As we’ve already mentioned above, the Good Sam Trip Planner will try and identify and avoid any roads that might be troublesome with an RV, for example, low bridges or steep inclines.
However, in practice, it’s not 100% accurate. We found that it would sometimes try to send us up the side of a mountain on an incline we would not be comfortable with normally. It’s something you’ll have to keep at the back of your mind and you’ll probably have to supplement their route planning capabilities with another source of information.
We cover some of the other sources of information below.
Given the cheap price of the Good Sam Trip Planner, it’s difficult to not recommend it. This is especially true when you take the other benefits of a Good Sam Club Membership into consideration. Just bear in mind that you’ll need to double check any planned routes for potential RV obstacles.
RV Trip Wizard is a strong contender for one of the best RV Trip planning apps available today.
At first glance you might feel that RV Trip Wizard is the ugly sister of the Good Sam Trip Planner, it certainly doesn’t come across as sleek or as easy to use.
However, if you persevere, you’ll quickly come to appreciate the powerful and feature-rich tools you’ll have at your fingertips.
It’s one of the more expensive applications, coming in at roughly $39 a year, but given its capabilities, I’m more than happy to pay this small premium.
At its heart is Google Maps which has been supplemented with almost every tool you could want from an RV trip planning application.
While Good Sams Trip Planner will only calculate the estimated cost of fuel for your trip, RV Trip Wizard goes far beyond this. In addition to calculating fuel costs, it’ll also factor in the cost of campgrounds, meals for all passengers as well as all the small innocuous costs that can quickly add up.
In a practical sense, this means it’s far easier to calculate and forecast your daily costs, which makes budgeting much easier, allowing you to make adjustments as you see fit to keep costs down. I’ve not come across another application with budgeting features as advanced as this. If you know of one, please do let me know in the comments below.
Another brilliant feature is the ‘bounding radii’. This feature allows you to site a quickly and easily set a maximum travel distance for each day of your trip, which helps avoid spending too many hours at the wheel in any one day. It should be noted that the maximum distance is calculated as the crow flies, and won’t take into consideration any windy roads. But it still provides a base measurement to work from.
One of our favorite features of the Good Sam Trip planner was the ability to view campgrounds along your journey. The good news is that RV Trip Wizard also has this feature, and it’s even better than Good Sams.
While Good Sams broke RV parks up into three distinct categories, RV Trip Wizard has over thirty categories, including National Parks, Monuments, Seashores, State Parks, Beaches, plus a whole lot more. It has thousands of RV parks in its database with more being added all the time. It might be the most comprehensive RV park database available.
When I’m planning an RV trip, I predominantly use RV Trip Wizard. Using anything else feels like a step backward and often feels like a frustrating experience. It’s by far my favorite RV Trip planning app.
There are a number of Truck and RV GPS applications available for smartphones on the market, we think CoPilot Truck GPS is one of the better ones.
If you don’t want to spend money on a Garmin or TomTom, then there a slew of smartphone GPS applications available. Many do an admirable job of avoiding low clearance bridges and hard to navigate roads.
CoPilot Truck GPS is one such app.
While its primary focus is on truckers, you can use it for any oversized vehicle, including RVs.
Once configured with the dimensions of your RV, it’ll efficiently plan your route so as to avoid low clearances, sharp turns, and roads that are not suitable for your the size of your RV.
Like almost anything, it does have some faults. The app has been known to crash unexpectedly, which is more of an inconvenience rather than anything else.
I must confess. I have no first-hand experience with this app, so if you do, please let us know what you think of it, good or bad.
One of the biggest frustrations I’ve faced with most RV Trip planning applications is the lack of awareness around the gradients of roads. This is where Mountain Directory comes into its own and really shines.
They are available in a range of formats, from physically printed books to digital options for Android, Windows, Mac, and Apple products.
One of the big advantages of the digital options is that once you’ve purchased and downloaded them to your device, they’re always available, regardless if you have an internet connection or not.
The interface is a tad clunky, but they’re infinitely easier and faster to use than looking at a topographical map and guessing whether or not a particular stretch of road might pose a challenge.
Both Good Sam and RV Trip Wizard have tried to send up a road with some serious gradients and some very tight turns, which are stressful in a car, let alone a 15,000 pound RV. Thankfully we spotted these issues before they became a problem thanks to Mountain Directory. Saving us what could have been a very memorable journey for all the wrong reasons.
We estimate that RV Trip Wizard and most RV GPS units have at most a directory of 1,500 low clearance bridges. However, it’s been estimated that there are between 4,000 and 6,000 bridges that are classed as low clearance in the US alone.
This means that you could be missing out on thousands of low clearance bridges.
Anyone of these bridges could quite easily remove a satellite dish or at worse cause a deadly accident.
Lowclearances.com maintains the most comprehensive database of low clearance bridges we’ve come across. A small upfront cost of $75 will ensure you have lifetime access to the Canadian and US database, which for peace of mind is a small price to pay.
You can quite easily install the database on your GPS unit so as to ensure you’re not caught out and you don’t become another statistic of the road.
Allstays LLC is one of the newer applications to come onto the market. It’s not one I’m intimately familiar with, but it’s got great reviews and a legion of fans. On paper, it seems very promising.
It promises to do everything you could ever want.
You’ll not only be able to find nearby campsites, including suitable boondocking spots and Walmart parking lots that allow overnight stays, but it provides warnings for low clearance bridges and information for RV friendly service stations.
As soon as we have the opportunity to do so, we’ll put this application through its paces and update this article with our thoughts. In the meantime, if you already have some experience, please let us know in the comments below.
If you’d rather not be caught out by a storm or stuck behind a queue of cars because of an accident, then InRoute might be just what you’re looking for.
It boasts the ability to provide real-time updates on the weather along your route as well as traffic conditions and any delays you might experience due to accidents.
If you need to stay informed as to what lies ahead of you in your journey, then you can’t get much better than this app.
I love saving money when I can, and the Ultimate U.S. Public Campground Project is one app that helps me to do this.
After parting with a measly $4, you’re provided with an incredible database of public and cheap camping options.
No matter where you’re headed in the country, you’re bound to find a ton of options.
If you’re looking for a particular type of campsite, for example, certain amenities, then the advanced filtering will allow you to find exactly what you’re looking for.
If you’re not a member of Passport America, then it’s well worth considering so as to access one of the best RV campground apps available.
Not only will the app provide you with a ton of information around campgrounds, but it’ll also secure you a decent discount at many RV parks. Given the discount available, you’ll probably find the app pays for the Passport America discount in no time at all.
If you have an interest in Boondocking your way around the country, then this is a must-have app.
This clever app allows you to quickly and easily see if a piece of ground you’re thinking about boondocking on is actually public land owned by the BLM, and therefore legal to boondock on. It’s much better and safer to know that your boondocking is legal before you set up your camp for the night.
There are no two ways about it, RVing is an expensive hobby to have, especially when it comes to filling up with Gas. That’s we love GasBuddy.
You might not think that saving a few cents on a gallon will amount to much, but over the course of a long trip when you’ll probably be using hundreds of gallons of gas, those few cents can quickly add up.
GasBuddy allows you to find the cheapest local gas prices around when its time to fill up. Best of all, it’s free to use, so there’s no excuse for not using it.
There’s just no escaping the call of nature. So, being able to find a local dump and fill stations is invaluable.
SaniDump has a massive database of dump locations, so you’ll never be caught short again.
It’s another free app to use, so there’s no reason not to use it.
Planning is key to a successful RV trip. Even with the best of intentions, it’s very easy to miss something essential to your trip, which can quickly ruin a trip if you’re not prepared.
RV Checklist provides a digital checklist to work through so that your RV trip goes as seamlessly as you deserve.
I’ve used it and more than once it’s provided that lightbulb moment when I’ve realized I’ve missed something important. It’s free, so use it and save yourself the frustration of missing something.
The Art Of RV Trip Planning
We’re incredibly lucky on this little blue planet of ours, there’s no shortage of interesting and amazing destinations to visit. Over a lifetime we might not be able to see everything that we wanted, but an RV can allow us to see a lot.
Unfortunately, it’s that massive potential for destinations that can make RV trip planning so challenging, and even sometimes stressful.
- How do you narrow down your choices to just a few locations?
- How do you know if you’ve made the right choice?
- How can you make sure you’ve hit all the high points along your route while avoiding all the low points?
If that sounds like you, you not only need to look at all the RV trip planning apps we’ve discussed above, but you also need to learn the art of RV trip planning.
RV Trip Planner
If you’re the organized type, or if you’ve somehow been designated as the RV Trip Planner, then we’ve put together some resources and tips that we hope will make your next RV trip be the adventure of a lifetime.
Choose An Event
At any time in the year, there’s bound to be festival or event going on around the country. Whether that’s a music festival, a chili carnival or a fishing tournament, we guarantee you’ll find something that takes your fancy if you look hard enough.
Whatever event type you like, why not plan an RV trip around it.
Organizing a vacation around the dates of an event is a great way to lay out a template and timeframe to adhere to. It’s much easier to plan a trip around a particular goal and time frame than just knowing you want to go to a particular area.
We find knowing that you need to be in a particular location on a specific date makes much planning much easier and the logistics of planning to just fall into place naturally.
You’re then free to explore the surrounding area or give yourself time to take the scenic route to reach your destination.
What’s On Your Bucket List
No matter how far out of the way the locations on your bucket list are, there’s probably a route to get you there. So why not plan a trip around ticking these off your list?
Even if your ultimate destination is utterly unobtainable by RV, if you look at how you might get there by RV you’ll probably find a ton of interesting locations that are en route and are well worth a visit.
If you’re not sure of where you’d like to go, then there are books dedicated to the subject, check out the lonely planets guide to America for starters.
Don’t Rush Things
If you’re someone that needs to plan every minute detail then this ‘skill’ might be difficult to master.
A large part of the appeal of RVing is that its incredibly flexible. If something piques your interest when you’re on the road, then you’re free to stop and take a look. Or if you want to stay on at a location for a couple of days (or even weeks), then there’s very little stopping you from doing so.
The biggest restricting factor for most people is money.
If you make reservations and commit to being in a particular location every single day, then you lose a lot of that flexibility and you might miss something truly special.
We also completely understand that during peak seasons RV parks can get busy, so you’ll need to use your judgment and make well thought out decisions. Use your intuition and perhaps opt for a happy medium between the two extremes.
Inspiring RV Trips
Regardless if you’re looking to tour every inch of your country, or if you’re just looking to get to know your local RV parks better, excelling an RV trip planning is about balancing flexibility with understanding what you want to get out of a trip.
The upside of all of this is that it’s very difficult to end up with a bad trip. Even if you don’t end up where you wanted to go, chances are you’ll have made a ton of memories and it’ll be something you’ll look back on with fond memories.
Without a sound, too cheesy, truly epic RVing is about the journey and is rarely only about the destination.
Use An RV Trip Planner Like A Pro
We hope you now have a solid and in-depth understanding of the various RV trip planning apps we have available to us and what you can do to make your adventure as awesome as it deserves to be.
We know that there is no perfect RV trip planning tool, and most should be supplemented with another. Some are very good and are just lacking that one vital point, while others fill a very specific niche and are excellent at what they do.
If I had to use one RV trip planning tool for the rest of my life, it would almost certainly be RV Trip Wizard. It gets so many features right and has a range of functionality that isn’t available in other tools.
However, I would strongly suggest using a suite of tools if you’re planning a major RV trip. Not only will this save you time and money in the long run, but it could also make your trip much safer than it would be otherwise.
We hope you’ve found our article helpful and you’ve found something useful you can put into practice when you’re next planning an RV trip.
As always, if you have any comments, or if you disagree with anything we’ve said, please let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get back you with an answer or revision.