My grandparents traveled for decades in their RVs. They would often drive the 1,400 miles, from Illinois to Montana, to come visit us grandkids. After they arrived and were set up in our driveway, we would all sit around while they would tell my parents all about the route they took, the traffic they encountered, and the campgrounds they stayed at.
I paid no attention, as “lots of construction on 90,” and “then, we took 85 up toward Belle Foursche,” and “you’ll never guess who we ran into at the KOA in Billings,” were of precious little interest to me at the time. But now, decades later, I find my grandparents’ travels fascinating. The thing that fascinates me the most about their travels is that they did it all by paper!
Printed road maps, paper brochures, handwritten notes of tips and recommendations from other travelers that they met in campgrounds; campgrounds that they found via billboards, road signs, and campground directories. Honestly, I am in awe! While we always use a paper atlas to visualize our general route, I cannot imagine trying to navigate Houston without a GPS, or wondering if we are missing the best places to eat without Yelp, or driving down the road to find we have to pay 50 cents per gallon more because we cruised past the cheap fuel 30 miles ago without our favorite fuel price checking app.
I love my technology when it comes to traveling.
There are so many great smart phone and tablet apps available, and some of them are very valuable for RV travel, saving in both time and money. Here are some easy-to-navigate, best travel apps that we find very useful on the road. All are available as apps, but also have regular sites for computer or laptop use.
Gas Buddy — This favorite might just be at the top of my best travel apps of all time because it actually does save me a considerable amount of money. Gas Buddy shows you the current fuel prices for regular or diesel at stations across the country. You can search via your smart phone’s GPS, or by entering the zip code or city and state of any area. I especially like that I can drag the screen along my planned route and see the fuel prices up the road from me, then gauge the best place to purchase fuel for both our gas van and our 2-ton diesel tow vehicle.
Have a bored passenger riding in the front seat? They can earn points by reporting current fuel station prices to Gas Buddy — points that you can use to enter for free fuel gift cards. www.gasbuddy.com/App
Oh, Ranger! — This app allows you to easily find and access the websites for public parks in an area. Highlighting museums, state parks, county parks, national parks, and federal lands, information such as name, distance (from either your current location, or to a city and state that you specify), and a short overview of the park are listed on the main page for an area. Click on any sites that interest you, and you will be taken to a more in-depth page about that location, including directions, a park map (when available), a list of amenities, an overview of the weather, and links to the park such as clickable phone number and website details. www.ohranger.com/app/parkfinder
RVparky.com — This free app allows you to search for campgrounds using your current GPS location, or you can type in the city and state, or zip. Your search will pull up a map showing roads, lakes and streams, Walmart/Cabela’s/Cracker Barrel locations (popular with some boondockers, like us), rest stops and campgrounds. Each location is shown with a small clickable icon on the zoomable map, which is great for visualizing the area.
RV park listings include federal, state and county parks as well as private campgrounds. Touching on the location icon then provides further information on the destination such as price, distance rating and amenities.Easy to use, and shows campgrounds that may not show up in general Google searches. www.rvparky.com
iExit — This app is essential for trip planning when traveling along an Interstate highway. The app provides a map that shows the location of every exit, along with a list of stores, gas stations, restaurants, campgrounds and RV service centers. You can change the settings to show the distance from exits to display the facilities, up to 10 miles away. The app also allows you to select the categories to display, so if diesel fuel isn’t important to you, it won’t display those firms. www.iexitapp.com
Open Signal — If you rely on cell phone connections for Internet access, chances are you have an antenna specifically set up to amplify cell signals. But, where should you point that antenna? Open Signal answers that question by detecting the location of the closest cell phone tower and displaying its direction so you can move the antenna to achieve the strongest signal. A recent update made the app smart enough to detect what carrier you’re using and show the location of that tower. www.opensignal.com
Today, Grampa has passed on, and Gramma no longer travels. She is as spry as ever, and I can tell by the way that she talks about our full-time RV travels, that she misses theirs. Maybe one day we will be able to take her on a road trip with us; she could give our GPS-savvy teen co-pilots a lesson or two about old school travel relying on roadsigns and printed maps while navigating through construction and traffic without the help of electronics. Every one of us would treasure the lessons, even if we aren’t willing to give up our travel-assisting apps!