Some experienced RVers don’t want me to share these RV trip booking secrets. I can’t believe I’m going to share this publicly, but I’m going to share all of my tips and some secret hacks to getting the campsites you want, even during the busy season and in busy touristy areas. Including how we ‘sneak’ into sold out campgrounds! Everything I’m sharing with you in this blog and video I’m actually doing right now as we plan our travels for 2021.
As people have figured out how to travel safely during the pandemic, more and more are choosing RV travel. According to Forbes Magazine, camping reservations are up as much as 500% in some areas. But don’t let that scare you, there are still campgrounds with plenty of availability for 2021. I know there are other blogs and videos out there about how sold out campgrounds are, but if you are committed to taking a fun RV trip this year or you are traveling full-time like we are, you can still do it and do it on the cheap!
And thank you for all of the suggestions on our last video. I’m still working through all of your suggestions and making our lists for where we plan to visit.
So how are we managing RV travel in 2021?
TIP 1. RESERVE EARLY!
Well to start, we are reserving out farther at the places we know we want to be. We like to have flexibility, but we also don’t plan to boondock or parking lot dock all of the time.
I really don’t like booking 6 months to a year out but I have been forcing myself too. I’ve found it better to do that and sometimes have to pay a cancellation fee to change or cancel rather than not having a camping spot at all.
TIP 2. CONFIRM!
Double and triple confirm your reservations, especially in popular destinations. You don’t want a software glitch or clerical error to lead to a lost booking and you out in the cold so to speak. Set a date on Google calendar to contact each campground and confirm your reservations, size limit of site, hookups, etc. If you want to stay longer, you can even ask if there was a cancellation so you could possibly extend your stay.
Thankfully we finally have our solar and lithium batteries coming in and an install coming soon, so we are planning more boondocking than normal and we know we can do more of it if plans change.
TIP 3. UNEXPECTED!
Expect the unexpected. Even a lost reservation. Because our RV is soooo long, 43 feet! I’m reserving places that I know we may not be able to fit into. No, I’m not booking too small of spaces, but I can see on some of the reviews that a 43’ space should work, but navigating to get to that site might be a challenge.
TIP 4. CHALLENGE
Accept that it might be a challenge reserving most of your travels for the year especially if you are traveling full time! I actually enjoy the challenge of piecing together a travel schedule. You have all of your tools, your secret weapons, your tool chest so to speak, tactics that you know most people don’t know. Then you score that new, little known campsite that is just amazing! Or you land a spot in a hard to get into park in the Florida Keys. It’s like a big puzzle. I’ve certainly been challenged as I’ve been putting together all of our bookings for 2021. And thank you again for all of the suggestions and places to visit this year.
This is new this year, I am working backwards for booking camping sites. Since my son in getting married in August and we will spend about a month in Minnesota. I booked our stay for the wedding in Minnesota, then went back to Glacier National Park and started booking backwards from there. Booking around Glacier National Park was not too hard so far out, but Yellow Stone National Park and the Tetons was a different story. That area was the most challenging, but I got the spots booked. As I started reserving in Utah, I was surprised to find even more available spaces.
TIP 5. STAY LONGER
Stay longer and farther away from tourist spots. First, locate where you want to be and then start checking availability in concentric circles going further out. I will search on the top things to do in an area or a state on Google. Like the top 10 things to do in Utah. I’ll also ask for recommendations on Facebook groups and of course YouTube. Sometimes I find the best information by searching blogs for off the beaten path secret spots.
Sometimes staying just 30 minutes to an hour away from an attraction will get you the availability you want and a lower rate. If there are multiple places to see in an area or a state you can locate in a central location often away from touristy areas and get the monthly rate. The monthly rate can surprisingly be just a little more than the weekly rate! We have traveled for years doing it this way and saving money.
For traveling between longer term destinations, we first Look for a Harvest Host (wineries, breweries, golf courses, etc. We love Harvest Hosts because they are quiet), then I’ll check other free parking options on BLM land, National Forests, and apps like Campendium, or All Stays for places like Walmart, Cracker Barrel, etc.
TIP 6. TRACKING
For keeping track of all reservations I use RV trip Wizard, part of the RV Life app. RV Trip Wizard is not free, but well worth it! I like to RV trip plan on my laptop computer, but RV Trip Wizard has a mobile app so everything transfers over to your phone, your reservations, RV safe directions, and more. I can also add notes to each campground reservation, like if we have a pull through or back in site, how long the site is, if it has full hook ups or not, etc.
TIP 7. LOW COST
I like to check for free and low cost campsites first to keep expenses down. I’ll first look for state and national parks in the area. Some of these will have hookups if we are lucky. State and National Park campsite rates can be ¼ to ½ of RV park and private campground rates. For National Park campgrounds, we jump on the Recreation.gov website (plus they have an app for your phone). It’s easy to put in the dates of your trip or search by a date grid, plus the length of your RV to find spaces that will accommodate your you. It will also show you other campgrounds close by that may have availability.
Many state parks will use Reserve America which works similar to Recreation.gov. Alternatively, if you are boondocking most of the time or prefer that kind of camping, I would use these apps: Campendium, Freeroam, and freecampsites.net. RV Trip Wizard has some free boondocking spots but not many. However, you can still enter them into RV Trip Wizard to track all of your boondocking spots in date order.
TIP 8. REVIEWS
Then I’ll look for regular RV parks and campgrounds and start checking reviews. This is cool because Campground Reviews are integrated into the RV Life/RV Trip Wizard website so it’s quick and easy to see what other campers thought about that particular campground. I really love how many of the reviews talk about how tight or easy it is the navigate a campground or not. If someone has a hard time with a 30 foot trailer, then I will pass on that campground.
TIP 9. BOONDOCKING
In busy areas like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, we are going to have gaps in our schedule. Those we save for boondocking and the first come, first served campgrounds or non-reservable campgrounds. Having gaps in your schedule is easy to see on RV Trip Wizard and it allows for more flexibility if you want to stay longer in an area. Keep in mind that this can be risky in some of the busiest locations. You might spend a lot of time looking for a camping spot last minute.
One of the advantages of having our Jeep is that Cheri can go out early and scope out a new campsite. If she finds a winner, she can start setting up camping chairs, portable fire pit, etc. at one of these first come, first served campgrounds (if that practice is allowed per the rules of the campground). Then I can pack up and bring the RV over to the new campsite. The smaller your RV, the more easily you can do this. So many places we cannot fit into with our huge RV.
TIP 10. BOOKING WINDOW
Some state and county parks have a narrow booking window. For example, Minnesota State Parks can only be reserved 120 days out. For this, I will put another reminder in Google Calendar so that I’m ready to reserve just as soon as the reservation window opens. It is important to know exactly when the reservation window opens for some really busy locations like the Florida Keys (which 8 a.m. EST, 11 months in advance) I’m on Mountain Time now, #mountaintribe for all my mountain tribe friends out there! But Cheri can’t wait to get back to the beach and #beachtribe! So in order to book a popular Florida State Park, I have to get up before 6 a.m. MST and have a site picked out and ready to book as soon as the clock hits 6 a.m. Even getting up that early still doesn’t work for some of the busiest state parks like Bahia Honda.
Here is a secret I was asked not to share a few years ago. This secret has since made its way around some of the full time RV Facebook groups, so I’m going to share it publicly now myself. The website is Reserve.wanderinglabs.com. This cool little website allows you to pick out the state parks you want to be at and a date frame you want to be there, even though the campsites are already sold out. The website then continually scans these campsites for cancellations and availability. Then it will send you either a text or email notification if it finds an available site that matches your search. Then you better act fast, because there could be a lot of other campers just waiting for that spot as well.
We used the Wandering Labs website a few years ago to help score our 7 week RV trip in the Florida Keys. This is free or you can give them a tip for more searches. The website was a real gamechanger for us the last few years. We used it to score 3 nights on the water in Bahia Honda State Park and several other state parks in the Keys and in Florida that had previously sold out. I can’t believe I’m sharing this publicly, knowing it will make it even more of a challenge for us to get bookings going forward.
TIP 11. RV MEMBERSHIPS
Our main RV membership is Thousand Trails. We have a 120 day reservation window for our Thousand Trails membership. I won’t go into a lot of detail about Thousand Trails memberships here, but you can check out all of our videos here.
If you want more information about these memberships, here are the experts! Contact Aaron Aaron_Massa@equitylifestyle.com or 360-489-4407 or contact Kimberly for a “used” membership http://enjoythejourney.life/TT or 800-272-0401 (mention Tom Kenemore if you call in).
Here is a secret Thousand Trails booking tip. The reservation window opens up at 12 Midnight CST for Thousand Trails campgrounds and the Encore Trails Collection. The regular Trails Collection window is 60 days out, but the new Adventure Package gives you 90 days out for reservations.
We also have the little-known Coast to Coast membership which gives you access to 100’s of RV campgrounds and resorts for just $10 a night. That reservation window is 60 to 90 days out depending on your particular membership. It’s the same with RPI, another membership we have. I know, campground memberships are complicated. If you need help and want to talk to the experts about them, just contact Aaron or Kimberly above.
So what are all of the tools in my RV Trip planning tool chest? Many are free and some are not, but here is the complete list:
Planning: RV Trip Wizard/RV Life, All Stays, Campendium, Recreation.gov, Reserve America, Reserve.wanderinglabs.com, Freeroam, Boondocking, The Dyrt, Freecampsites.net, National Forest Map Locator, or find each office https://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/map/finder.shtml or BLM land interactive map
I know that seems like a lot, but you get to pick and choose which ones will work for you.
What are your camping plans for 2021? Are you doing anything differently than before for RV trip planning? Share your tips in the video comments. Stay safe and enjoy your journey!
Thank you for reading, watching, subscribing and sharing this with your RV friends. Safe travels and say hi if you see us on the road!
Tom, Cheri & Logan
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