Remember planning a camping road trip without the internet or a cell phone? It was not long ago that an atlas, a campground directory, guide books, and a sheaf of notebook paper were required for even a simple weekend away. If a trip was particularly complicated, we may swing by the local AAA office for an official TripTik. Never could we have imagined our 2018 selves – checking gas prices at upcoming exits, monitoring the number of available campsites at our destination, or talking to those ahead of us in traffic jams about the best strategy for avoiding delays.
The 20 hour drive back from our most recent camping trip seemed to be the ideal time to look at which apps we use most often. The following are the apps I have checked most frequently in recent trips and I would highly recommend checking them out.
Hands down, I think the Camp & RV version of this is the best app out there for campers. Unless you are someone who only travels to local parks with which you are familiar, this is a must-buy. Sadly, it appears the app is only available for iPhone users. AllStays Pro is available for home computer or browser use for a $32.95 annual subscription. At that price, I may hesitate, but I have no doubt it is worth every penny of the $9.99 I paid for the app.
This is an app that shows nearly everything you need for your travels. The map not only labels campgrounds by type – state park, COE, KOA, etc., but also provides details on the sites. I especially like the reviews within the app. I won’t name names, but we once ruled out a campground based on a review that claimed the park had greatly improved once they began doing background checks on residents.
Another favorite feature is the ability find Walmarts that are amenable to overnight stays. All Walmart locations are color-coded based on those which definitely do not allow campers and those which you may call to check for permission. Calling is as convenient as tapping the button within the entry. The Walmarts are also reviewed so that RVers can share their experiences with managers, city police, or noise levels. Locations of other chains that are known to accept overnighters are also noted.
I won’t list all the other camper-relevant features marked within the app, but truck stops, rest areas, and low-clearance bridges are most helpful.
I would say the only other feature I wish this app included are routes not appropriate for large rigs for reasons other than clearance. Road that are restricted for grade, turns, weight or other reasons are not noted to my knowledge. I believe the only current tool that guides drivers around these obstacles is the pricey Rand McNally GPS-system and I don’t think we will invest in that anytime soon.
This is my favorite of the handful of apps that show the amenities available at upcoming exits. My favorite feature is the ability to search by franchise or service so we can plan ahead for meal and gas stops. The entries for gas stations often include recent gas prices. They may not be 100% accurate, but generally have been helpful in avoiding pockets of high gas prices. More adventurous eaters may appreciate the Yelp ratings for restaurant choices. We admittedly stick with our fast food stand-bys when we are on the road. Most importantly, we can plan exactly the perfect time to stop for Starbucks.
My biggest complaint about iExit is the lack of context for some locations. We have had a couple occasions when we took an exit and found the restaurant we planned on was in a mall food court or otherwise not as convenient as we had hoped.
3. Recreation.gov/Reserve America
This pair of apps is great for making reservations at public lands. Recreation.gov manages the federal campgrounds at national parks, national forests, and Army Corps of Engineers land. Reserve America covers many of the state parks, although a few states manage their own reservation systems. Both are great for checking availability. The Reserve American app shows available sites and a brief description. Often there are pictures as well. Reservations can be made directly from the app. You are also able to check your profile for upcoming and past reservations. This is great when you are rolling into a campground after the staff have gone home and you can’t remember which site you booked. It can also be helpful to know which sites you have stayed in. I now keep track in our travel diary, but my Reserve America history goes back five years. I have used that information more than once. The recreation.gov app directs users to the mobile website for similar functionality.
My biggest problem is confusing the two apps. Last summer I checked Reserve America for our campsite number as we pulled into Maine only to find no upcoming reservations. I was overcome with a wave of nauseated panic; I made these reservations months ago and I knew there wouldn’t be a free site for miles. Fortunately, my logical mind broke through the panic to remind me that these were federal campgrounds. I quickly found the reservations on recreation.gov.
I should also give an honorable mention here to the KOA app. We generally find KOA campgrounds have kind of cramped sites, but lots of amenities. They are usually better suited to are looking for lots of campground activities for their family. We prefer the larger, more private sites we find at public campgrounds. However, when we are looking for a quick place overnight, we have found the KOA app to be excellent in its usability. Anyone who likes staying at KOA campgrounds should definitely download this.
Similarly, I think there is an app for Good Sam and Jellystone park campgrounds, but I haven’t checked those out. Reviews don’t seem great.
Over the years we have developed a couple rules for while we are camping and hiking; “Always stop for a snack when someone suggests it”, “Always double check each other’s work”, Perhaps our most recited mantra is, “ALWAYS trust Waze!” Waze is a mapping app similar to many others. Our preference for this one over others is due to it’s real time and fairly accurate monitoring of traffic and nearly constant rerouting to get us to our destination as quickly as possible. We have learned better than to try to get cute and second guess Waze with shortcuts. Waze uses the location of other Wazers to monitor conditions. Wazers report hazards such as potholes, police, accidents, stopped cars and more. Most useful is the ability to make and see comments. Sitting in traffic is never fun, of course, but I think it is a bit more bearable to know we are sitting in traffic because there is a lane closure two miles ahead. If enough Wazers are around, there may be even be a countdown for a traffic jam approximating the amount of time remaining.
As with all of the other apps, Waze also has some limitations. I think the biggest problem for those with trailers is it’s extremely optimistic arrival times. Their algorithm seems to be based on drivers who regularly exceed the speed limit, aka average drivers. When towing, we tend to stick to traveling at 65 to 70 mph, at most. We find we must increase travel times by at least 25%. It isn’t a big problem, but I would love to have a feature that allow for us to adjust our time estimates based on our speed.
The Roadtrippers app is a nice complement to the Roadtrippers website. So far, the website is the best tool I have found to start planning a longer vacation. Enter your starting and ending destinations to create a route then view attractions, restaurants, campgrounds, and more along the way. What I like best is the ability to save routes and change them later. I store lots of versions of a trip as I am planning with different options for daily miles, campgrounds and sights. On longer trips, I will note locations of grocery stores or laundromats near we will be. As with much technology, the app is a bit more cumbersome than the website, but I have also put together a quick road trip from my phone.
Other honorable mentions
By no means is this list comprehensive. There are some other great apps out there that others swear by. It may be worth checking out Gas Buddy or Sanidumps. Campendium has some great reviews, but seems to focus on campgrounds in western states. I have also heard people like RV Trip Wizard, but I think we have found plenty of tools to plan our trips!