7 Game-Changing Services to Revolutionize Your Travel Planning
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Long gone are the days of relying on outdated pamphlets and crumpled maps to plan your trips. In today's digital age, smartphones have become our ultimate travel companions, offering a plethora of services to ease the burdens of planning and ensure smooth journeys. In this article, we will delve into seven exceptional services that not only simplify travel arrangements but also ignite a sense of adventure, prompting you to embark on exciting new experiences.
If you haven't heard of Thousand Trails, it's a membership-based network of campgrounds across the country that offers members the opportunity to stay for up to two weeks at a time within a designated zone. However, there are a few limitations to be aware of. Firstly, there is a one-week waiting period before you can stay at another Thousand Trails site. Secondly, you are restricted to a single zone, which limits your options to a specific area of the United States. Lastly, the campground sites themselves may impose additional restrictions. Fortunately, Thousand Trails offers various upgrade options. You can choose to include more sites or zones as add-ons, or opt for a higher-tier membership with a one-time fee for a lifetime membership (separate from the yearly dues). While we won't delve into all the pros and cons of Thousand Trails in this discussion, we will provide a detailed summary in a future post.
As members of Thousand Trails with the Elite Basic package, we enjoy extended stays of up to three weeks at many campgrounds, without any cooldown period. This means we have the flexibility to hop from one site to another if we wish. This perk has saved us thousands of dollars in campground costs compared to paying out of pocket at each location. It's particularly valuable for full-time RVers, but it has also proven useful during our short-to-long term trips in different parts of the southern region and along the East Coast of the US. Booking through their user-friendly website is generally straightforward. However, we recommend calling ahead to confirm certain stays, as we've discovered that some areas offer premium "upgraded" sites with 50-amp hookups for a nominal daily fee. Making a call in advance also allows you to secure the best site that suits your specific setup or requirements. With the Elite Basic package, we can reserve our stays up to 120 days in advance, providing us with ample time to plan without needing to pay any kind of deposit.
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While Thousand Trails is our primary network for booking campsites, it's important to note that their coverage isn't ubiquitous. When we find ourselves needing to book sites outside of the Thousand Trails network, our go-to resource is Campendium. As members of Good Sam, we have the advantage of filtering sites that offer discounts. Additionally, Campendium allows you to customize your search based on criteria that align with your specific needs or lifestyle, such as Military discounts and more. One of the standout features of Campendium is the user reviews provided for each site. These reviews often contain valuable information, including user-validated cell reception and coverage for different carriers, maximum RV length allowances, and the most recent price per night. Such details can make a significant impact on your decision-making process. Thanks to the active and engaged community on Campendium, utilizing their app or website is as effortless as using Yelp! to find reviews and photos of places to dine.
When it comes to planning extended stays of a week or longer, as well as shorter stays for a night or two, both Thousand Trails and Campendium excel. However, what if you're embarking on a lengthy journey between sites and need to split it into multiple travel days? Or perhaps you're seeking accommodations that go beyond traditional campsites? In such cases, Harvest Host and Boondockers Welcome offer incredible value. These platforms provide opportunities for 1-5 nights of no-additional-cost stays at various types of venues, ranging from wineries and breweries to golf courses and farms.
Boondockers Welcome, in particular, specializes in offering stays on private properties across the country, significantly expanding the range of potential locations for a low yearly cost. During a Black Friday sale, we were fortunate enough to secure our Harvest Host membership and upgrade to include Boondockers Welcome for approximately $100.
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When you're on a travel day, the last thing you want is to rely on guesswork when it comes to finding fuel stops, overnight stays, last-minute bookings, or rest areas. That's where RVParky comes in handy. With this tool, you can plan your route in advance and discover points of interest along the way.
Before we upgraded to a diesel vehicle, locating a suitable fuel stop for our gasoline rig was always a challenge. It often felt like a gamble to find a station that was not only large enough to accommodate our rig but also easy to navigate without risking any damage. Satellite images or Street View were not always up-to-date, and upon arrival, we would sometimes find crowded locations that made it nearly impossible to leave with our sanity intact. RVParky solves these problems by providing a comprehensive list of major fuel stops, including Love's and Pilot/Flying J, complete with user reviews, links to Google Maps, and other helpful details. As you add more points of interest or destinations to your trip, RVParky also allows you to keep track of the mileage in-between. This way, you can schedule a pitstop based on the valuable information shared by other users. While the site may not always have the most up-to-date information, it provides a reliable estimate.
In addition to fuel stops, RVParky also highlights other places that allow overnight parking, such as Cracker Barrel, Cabela's, and Walmart. Each store listing features user reviews that inform you about their overnight-friendliness, noise levels, and more. With RVParky, you can confidently plan your travel day, knowing that you have access to essential information and insights from fellow travelers.
But what if you find yourself in need of a spontaneous stop without any pre-planning? If you're an iOS user, the iExit app comes to the rescue. There are two versions available: iExit and iExit Trucks. Both versions offer similar information, but one is tailored specifically for truckers, while the other is designed for everyone else. When you're driving along a highway or interstate, simply open the app, and it will automatically detect your current road, providing you with upcoming exit details. Whether you're in search of a rest area, a quick bite to eat, or the most affordable gas along your route, iExit simplifies the process of finding what you need.
Like other similar services, it's important to keep in mind that the app may occasionally miss listing certain establishments, which can be disappointing. Nonetheless, overall, iExit has proven to be a valuable and free app.
Looking for something even better than relying on a GPS app on your phone? Look no further than a dedicated GPS system that utilizes real satellite communications! Countless times we found ourselves in remote mountainous areas, only to discover that our "reliable" phones failed to load due to the lack of cell towers nearby. That's where Garmin comes in, a renowned leader in the GPS industry with a proven track record.
By combining our mobile device and/or hotspot with the Garmin RVcam 795, we've truly unlocked the best of both worlds. With a simple command of "Hey, Garmin," I can ask it to guide us to a new point of interest. Even better, I can conveniently add a destination from my phone the night before, and it automatically syncs when I connect to the device the next day. One outstanding feature is the ability to input the dimensions of our vehicle, ensuring that it navigates us safely on routes suitable for our size. Although this may be less relevant for smaller campers, considering all the other benefits, the Garmin RVcam 795 remains an exceptional device. Oh, and did you catch that it's called an RVCam? That's because it includes a built-in dashcam, continuously recording our journey as we drive.
Certainly, Waze is undoubtedly on our list, but not for the reasons you might assume. I understand the curiosity behind why we still use Waze despite having a dedicated GPS. While the Garmin GPS offers numerous fantastic features, such as traffic and weather alerts, there is one area where it falls short: hazard reports. It's valuable to be aware of potential obstacles ahead, such as potholes, vehicles on the shoulder, objects on the road, or even railroad crossings.
Moreover, there's the matter of speed traps. Even though we operate a large rig and generally adhere to the speed limits, it's still beneficial to know the locations of speed traps. This information can indicate the possibility of a traffic accident, upcoming congestion, or other noteworthy factors to keep in mind while driving.
While there are numerous other apps, websites, and services that facilitate travel planning, the combination of the aforementioned services truly elevates your travel experiences. With their seamless integration, user-generated insights, and intuitive interfaces, these services enable you to embark on stress-free and exhilarating journeys. Although travel planning can be daunting, these tools alleviate the burden and empower you to explore the world with confidence. So, load up your camper, ignite your sense of adventure, and embrace these remarkable services as your trusted travel companions.