Jennifer and I have been using a tool called RV Trip Wizard to help plot out our RV travel routes and stops for years now. But since the product has been bundled into a whole suite of other related resources, its value has greatly increased.
The umbrella program that I’m talking about is RV Life Pro, a $49 a year subscription that contains a slew of tools. They give you a week's free trial to be sure you like it.
That's the Interview of the Week topic in Episode 32o of the RV Podcast.
Also this week in the Podcast, we answer RV questions, offer tips and trip suggestions and deliver the RV News of the week.
You can listen to the entire podcast in the audio player below.
RV Life Pro Tools to help you Plan an RV Trip
The collection of RV tools built into the RV Life Pro platform consist of lots of different elements. Here are the ones Jennifer and I like and use the most when we sit down to plan an RV trip.
This is route planning software built specifically for RV travelers. It uses distance rings to show exactly where you’ll be at the end of your driving day to choose the ideal stop.
On-screen, you actually see the Route you are taking, with campgrounds, G=gas Sstops, points of interest and more.
The software is customized to your RVs height and weight. That means that the routes calculated for you avoid low clearances, steep grades, weight limits, and propane restrictions. See the Route you are taking, with Campgrounds, Gas Stops, points of interest and more.
This turns your smartphone or tablet into a GPS. It accesses the trips you planned with RV Trip Wizard and plots them out.
It helps you find the perfect places to stop by searching through a database of more than 20,000 state and national campgrounds and private RV parks. You can filter by price, rating, amenities, affiliations (Good Sam, Passport America, KOA, FMCA, & more), kid friendly, pet friendly, or big rig accessible.
The app offers tips and suggestions about what to do, where to eat, and places to visit near each campground. And if you have a question about a particular RV Park or campground, simply ask your question a get answers from other RVers who have camped there.
This is a cloud-based service that works on your tablet, computer, and smartphone.]
It tracks upcoming maintenance dates and sends detailed reminder emails, showing what needs your attention, and also the last time you performed that task, its costs, and related documentation.
It also turns data into reports that let you access documents and see key dates instantly.
This is a link to more than 20 different RV communities, most of them built up around specific RV brands and models (like Forest River, Jayco, Thir, Keystone, etc.)
What’s helpful about this is if you have an issue on the road or a question about your RV, you can quickly and easily connect with owners of similar models to get immediate advice.
You can try out the RV Life Pro app for free. CLICK HERE to go to our affiliate link.
In Episode 320 of our RV Podcast, I interviewed RV Life's Patrick Buchanan on how to use RV Life Pro to Plan an RV Trip.
Here's a video version of the RV Podcast interview on How to Plan an RV Trip.
Here's a transcript of the interview:
Mike Wendland: Well, joining us right now from RV life is Patrick Buchanan. And we're going to kind of walk through how easy it is now to plan an RV trip. I've done it before with paper maps and books, and it works. It's kind of fun.
I still like to carry paper and all that stuff, but on the phone like this, this is the way. Patrick, you've put together quite a suite of RV planning information, and we'll put a link to that all in the show notes and in the description below. Patrick, talk a little bit about how technology has made it so easy to plan a trip and to get your navigation directions, and talk about RV Life Pro.
Patrick Buchana…: Well, thanks Mike. It's great to be here again, and I hope your audience enjoys this time. So, we really turned a major corner really last year and into this year when we were able to bring together the RV Trip Wizard, which is that a web-based trip planning tool, now we've had for a number of years, but we were able to marry that with our RV life GPS app.
Whereas you used to, and still can of course, plan your trips in detail with the RV Trip Wizard, you now can navigate those trips that you've created right there on your phone with an RV safe GPS.
Solving the frustrating problems with RV GPS systens
As companies like Rand McNally and Garmin have kind of gone their own ways and followed their own path so to speak, taking that trip, you spend all that time and Trip Wizard, creating that trip with all the nuances and the details and every facet that you want to have in there, exporting that to a GPS has been always an exciting challenge to say the least.
Mike Wendland: I don't know if I'd use the word exciting Patrick.
Patrick Buchana…: Well, I was trying to a friendly word.
Mike Wendland: I would have an ING at the end, but it would probably start with frustrating.
Patrick Buchana…: Yeah, very much so. It's gotten all but impossible now as some of those brands, and certainly it makes sense for them, to keep you in their ecosystem using their tools. And unfortunately, they're just not as good, and they're a little bit cumbersome and they're just not complete tools. They want you to essentially drink their Kool-Aid through the whole process, but really that pitcher is only about half full.
So, we were excited and we actually accelerated our team to pushing that RV life app out there soon. It's available now and it's included, so it's no longer a separate subscription to get the RV Trip Wizard and then get the RV life GPS app. On its own, it's got a lot of great features. It's a standalone GPS.
You can find a campground, hit go, and hit the road. The beauty of it is being able to find the trip in the Trip Wizard that you planned. Everything's in the cloud now, so you'll pop up in your phone. You find that trip that you spent all that time planning and just hit go, and you navigate that trip right on the phone. So that one, two punch has been a game changer.
The integration of different tools for planning an RV Trip
Mike Wendland: And there's some more, I'll come back to that. Let's kind of back up a little bit and first talk about the fact that this is all integrated now in an app. RV trip planner, RV Trip Wizard has been my go-to planning tool now for a couple of years. It's just really nice. I have a rule, Patrick, called the three 330 rule where I urge my folks and we follow it as best we can.
Use Mike's 330 rule when you plan an RV trip!
Don't travel any more than 330 miles. Stop by 3:30 in the afternoon, whichever comes first. Then you're not worn out. You can see the area.
And what I loved about RV Trip Wizard and still love about it is that I can set a circle of 350 on my route. And then right from that app, I can find places where I can camp along the way, and I've loved that. But now, instead of having to open up that app on a tablet while we drive, it's all on the smartphone.
And I think the other thing that has made this really possible for you guys is the popularity of things like CarPlay or Android auto, which now integrate your mapping systems directly into your vehicle GPS. So we planted on RV Trip Wizard, give everybody a 15 second overview of what that does, besides being able to set a 330 mile radius.
Patrick Buchana…: Well, the radius is in fact the biggest feature and I actually use hours for mine. So I set mine for five hours and with stops, that's maybe a six hour day, but it accomplishes the same thing.
The quick and dirty explanation of what Trip Wizard does, it shows you exactly where you're going to be at the end of your driving day. And it shows you those campgrounds that are in that area, so you can choose it and add it to your trip. Lather, rinse, repeat. You just do it every day.
The tool helps you find campgrounds as you plan an RV Trip
Mike Wendland: But none of this would show you the campgrounds. You can then click on those campgrounds. And that's another part of this whole RV Life Pro app that you get, because you can now bring up data on those campgrounds, and you can then book your campground. But it's so nice to be able to click and see what those campgrounds are and not have to keep switching between devices and phones.
Patrick Buchana…: Well, it really is. There's really kind of two layers to that. That first click gives you a quick picture and a rating, three stars, four stars, five stars. And it sort of says, “Okay, do I want to investigate this one further?” And then I click more details and now I can look at reviews, and I can look at amenities, and I can look at a bunch more photos and things like that. And that helps me make that decision.
Once I finally, I decide, yep, that's where I'm going to stay, then I hit that add to trip button. Also in that data is that campgrounds website and phone number, so if you want to make that reservation, and you should, certainly in today's times, you should, you can call them or you go to their website right from there and make that reservation.
Mike Wendland: And one of the things I like about so many of those campgrounds now is we actually, for those of us who work on the road and all the digital nomads out there, is it gives you a quick idea of how well cellular coverage is, which is a big factor. So we've done that, we've planned our trip. We have found our campgrounds.
Now I want to go back to the GPS system. You call it the “RV safe.” And this answers a question I get regularly from our listeners and our viewers about how do I know where tunnels are too low for me? Or what's the steep mountain grade? You integrate that. I'm assuming that's why you call it RV safe for your navigation system.
Plan an RV trip based on your RV's specs
Patrick Buchana…: Yeah, absolutely. One of the first steps that you'll do when you sign into the app is set and confirm your RV dimensions, height, weight, length, and whether or not you're carrying propane, because that can affect a few tunnels out there.
When you hit that go button, whether it's a short camping trip to one stop, or whether it's an elaborate trip that you've created in Trip Wizard, it'll present you with that route and you confirm the RV, and then you hit go, and it'll avoid those low bridges. It'll do all those things that people are fearful about.
I'm amazed at the amount of people that simply rely on Google to drive their RV. The two biggest problems there of course are A, Google doesn't know what you're driving, so it doesn't avoid those bridges or areas you shouldn't be in. And Google assumes you're traveling at highway speed or better, which sometimes is 70, 75 miles an hour.
There's a stretch here in Texas that's 80 miles an hour. And some of those I think up in Wyoming, perhaps. That's not reality in the RV. So after a grueling six or seven or eight hours of driving or Mike, if you set your 330, if you're doing that on Google, you're not where you thought you were going to be, because you're not going 75 miles an hour.
Mike Wendland: And another thing that's nice about an app like this is it's constantly updated. It's always being updated. You pick up a piece of paper and other things. So we figured out how to do the planning, which is cool. We've got the GPS system. We have found a campground. And then there are some of the other features that I really liked that you've added.
So for example, if I want to know what to see along the way, or what to see in the area that I'm going to be overnighting, talk about that part of the planning process, because people always say, “Well, what should I see when I'm around here?”
Find more than campgrounds when you plan an RV trip
Patrick Buchana…: Yeah. In that planning aspect, really, which kind of leans us back more toward the Trip Wizard side, we have all these POIs, points of interest, if you will. The golf courses, the museums, the amusement parks, and attractions like that, anything within an area. You can select those. Casinos for those that like that.
You can select those, and it'll show them on the map. And you can get real fancy with some of the driving rings and set yourself a radius. That's sort of sophomore year usage there, but you can tag all those things in Trip Wizard and find them, locate them. If it's something you're going to see along the way, then you just go ahead and add it to your trip.
If it's something you're going to just do when you're there, you make a note of it or throw a comment in the campground box. And then when you get there, you go, “Hey, we're going to go see that art museum,” or whatever.
Mike Wendland: Well, I'm going to put a link to all of this in the show notes and in the description. A lot of people are driving right now. You guys have done really a terrific job. It used to be up until this that you needed paper, pens, books. And I don't have anything against paper maps.
They're kind of fun to hold and look, but I used to have those. Then you used to have one app for driving, and an app for campgrounds. And now it's all in one system, and that is awesome. Plus, the community aspect of it as well. There's a community involved here too, right?
Patrick Buchana…: Absolutely. The RV life community is huge. We've got a lot of resources out there, forums and Facebook and all those types of things. The app itself, you mentioned really the attractions or things like that. But one of the neatest parts of the app is wherever you are, based on your GPS location, the app will constantly show you what rest areas, what fuel stations, and what campgrounds are nearby.
So if you get stalled, you get in a traffic jam, or those types of things, you can just look at your phone and say, “You know what? We're not going to make that campground or that rest area like we planned. Where's the one?” So that's one of my favorite features in that app, because you never know what you're going to run into. But that segue was simply to remind me of those features that are in the app, and that includes access to all of our community sites, the content sites, and articles, things like that.
Mike Wendland: Well, RV Life Pro is the service that we're talking about here, and it makes your RV trip planning so much easier. And not only your trip planning, but your trip itself. Patrick Buchanan from RV life, thank you for being with us. And we will put links to all of that. And I'm actually planning a big one.
I'm hoping we can all start traveling again. Who knows next year, but I've already got about the first 1200 miles planned, so we'll keep working. And that's another thing that's funny, you can actually start this, work a plan out, and then come back to it later. Mine is all filled with it now. So Patrick, thank you for being our guest.
Patrick Buchana…: Thank you, Mike. It's a pleasure as always and hope to see you soon, perhaps Tampa, who knows what we'll be stuck with next January, but you know what? We'll just play it by ear.
Mike Wendland: Well, we are planning to be at the Tampa RV SuperShow in just a couple months. See you then.
Patrick Buchana…: Well, as are we, so hopefully it'll all go down.
Want more info?
We talked about lots more in the Podcast besides How to Plan an RV Trip;
The RV Podcast News of the Week:
Tropical storm Eta expected to hit Florida, maybe as yet another hurricane, this week
As I write this, yet another named tropical storm is projected to become a hurricane and hit the gulf region – particularly the state of Florida – this week. Tropical storm Eta was over Cuba Sunday, and lashed the Florida keys Monday and Tuesday. As we record this, Eta is expected to head west and then predicted to turn north and east and hit Florida again- maybe multiple times on up to the Panhandle. Obviously with a tropical storm or hurricane things may change by the time you read this, but if you are planning to camp in the southern gulf states this week be sure to check in with your campground ahead of time, and we recommend getting a good weather app, some of which we preview here.
Rocky Mountain National Park partially reopens for first time since wildfire; many historic buildings destroyed
Some parts of the Rocky Mountain National Park opened to visitors over the weekend for the first time since Oct. 22, when the park was hit by a devastating wildfire, forcing evacuations and closure. The fire destroyed several historic buildings including Fern Lake backcountry patrol cabin, Trails and Tack Barn, the Grand Lake entrance station office, and more. The fire is reported to be the second largest in the park's history and is still burning in parts of the park.
Man caught cooking two chickens in a hot spring at Yellowstone National Park banned from the park and issued fine
Sometimes the news stories of people doing foolish things at Yellowstone National Park leave us just shaking our heads. So was the case in a story we read last week about a man who was caught cooking two chickens in a hot spring. Rangers caught the man in a group of people hiking near the Shoshone Geyser Basin, a thermal area that's off limits to hikers. The incident happened in August, but the sentencing was recently with the man being banished from Yellowstone for two years, and ordered to pay a fine.
RV fire in Washington caused by unattended electric heater: Chilly weather means good time to review fire safety tips
As the weather is getting chillier in much of the country, we saw several stories this past week of RV fires caused by electric heaters. One story (click here) happened after an RV owner in Washington state left the electric heater on when he was not inside. We thought this might be a good time for all of us to do a refresher on RV safety. Electric heaters are a common cause of fires, and should never be left on unattended. A few years back we interviewed Mark Polk on what we can do to reduce the likelihood of a fire, and wanted to share it with you here.
California's state park closures due to wildfires and COVID measures leave some concerned about massive financial hit
We saw an interesting story last week about the financial issues facing California state parks, which many of us RVers enjoy visiting. California's parks were particularly hard hit this year not only by wildfires but by government ordered COVID-19 closures. The combination meant less visitors, and less visitors mean less revenue needed to pay staff and keep the facilities open. The article was an interesting one, and left me wondering how many other states hit by strict COVID measures or wildfires are in similar situations.
RV Podcast Question of the Week
We get and answer a question from a listener about how to convince his wife that they should get an RV.
You can hear it in the player below. Scroll forward to about 11:30 in the audio player
RV Podcast Off the Beaten Path – Pretzels in Pennsylvania
BY TOM & PATTI BURKETT
It’s said that the keystone state is the snack capital of the United States, and we have no reason to argue with that assertion. Whether you want to eat yourself full of potato chips and pretzels, or try more esoteric specialties like pickle cheese balls or cream cheese and lox crackers, the bakers of Pennsylvania will provide.
Some, like the venerable fifties edifice that houses Utz Snacks and the sprawling complex where Herr’s produces their goodies, are modern factories, albeit with a sense of fun you won’t find at shop where less crispy offerings are shipped out the door. Others are true throwbacks, family operations that still produce in small batches for a limited market.
Let’s start at the beginning. The oldest continuously operating family hand-made pretzel bakery in the USA can be found down a side street in Lancaster. Still operating in a slightly enlarged version of the two next door garages where it began in 1931, Hammond’s Bakery is now run by the grandchildren of founder William Hammond.
An ingenious machine rolls and twists the pretzel dough, one at a time, before they’re baked on a revolving soapstone hearth in original brick ovens. The first pretzel twisting machine was invented in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1947. Very few pretzel these days are actually twisted, either by hand or by machine, except at soft pretzel bakeries.
If you’d like to try your hand at pretzel twisting you can take the twisting tour at Julius Sturgis pretzels in the Mennonite town of Lititz. Sturgis has its own claim to fame, as the oldest commercial pretzel bakery in the USA.
As the story goes, back in 1850, a hob wandered in to Sturgis’s bakery looking for a job. No jobs were available, but old Julius gave him a good meal and let him sleep on the floor. In the morning he was gone, but on the counter was a recipe for pretzels.
Having never tried them before, the baker made a batch and within ten years had abandoned all his other products to make them full time. Six generations later, Bruce Sturgis runs the show and once hosted an episode of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Get a look at more modern pretzel making at the gleaming and much more technological Herr’s Snack Food Company in the Pennsylvania Dutch town of Intercourse. The name of the town is a story in and of itself, which we’ll save for another time.
At Herr’s, the tour gathers in a large, colorful tiled lobby and proceeds upstairs to a viewing gallery where, through large windows, you can watch the largely automated process in operation. Pretzels here are extruded through a die onto a continuously moving conveyor that travels below a salter, through a soda bath, into an oven and a cooling chamber and eventually spill into bags.
From this high vantage you can watch other things being made as well, and there is an informative video playing that explains the process and the machinery. Back in the lobby there’s a well stocked and very reasonably priced gift shop
No pretzel tour would be complete without a stop at the Utz store, also in Lancaster. The front of the building looks like it might have emerged from a 1950s science fiction movie—all aluminum and curves.
Step inside, and there are dozens of varieties of chips, crackers, pretzels, cheese balls, and dips. Seasonal pretzel shapes, trees and stars in December, bunnies and eggs in the Spring, sit next to industrial size tubs of bar snack mix and multipacks of Halloween treat bags.
We’ve never left without eating too much and buying too much, and every time we’ve checked out, the cashier has thrown in an extra bag or two of something they made too much of. Last time it was cheese and salsa chips.
There are literally dozens of large and small snack food factories in the Southeastern quarter of Pennsylvania. You can find a lot of them in guide books, and find some more by asking questions at small town diners and general stores.
And some, you’ll discover, only appear to those who keep their eyes open while driving the side streets, far off the beaten path.
Curious about the gear, gadgets, accessories, and RV products Mike & Jennifer use and recommend?
On this RV Lifestyle Travel blog, our RV Podcast and our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel, we mention all sorts of RV-related products and gear that we use, So we created a special page links to them. We update this all the time. CLICK HERE to go to it directly.