Planning the Big Trip:
Now that we had a camper and the right truck to pull it, our family wanted to hit the road! We did a couple of short range trips to local campgrounds (more on those in a later post), but we had some extra vacation time built up thanks to COVID, and wanted to do a long haul.
We had about two and half weeks and knew our target was the Mid-West in order to get to see a few family members. I started out my planning as if it were a car trip, then allowed some extra time at each location so we weren’t camping for just one night. We didn’t want to set up all our gear and level a trailer to just tear it down again the next morning.
Being a AAA member, I logged in to their Trip-Tik program to plan my route. Their site also shows you nearby local campgrounds and attractions on your route. During the time of COVID-19, they have also added a handy travel restrictions map that I referred to frequently.
I was very proud of my handiwork and had written out all the mileage and stops in long-hand on a notebook. I then took it to Brad for his approval – and he began to laugh.
(I don’t think I laughed, so much as smiled a little too loudly. In her defense I had once told Anna I could do 715 miles a day. I didn’t put two and two together until I was handed the travel plan for this vacation. It was aggressive to be polite, starting in Florida we would make our way to Maine, then Niagara Falls, through Canada to Michigan, a crossed the Mackinaw to Minnesota then down through Iowa, Lake of the Ozarks, Arkansas and Alabama before returning home, with a couple of 700 plus mile days. That’s when we had a discussion about mileage versus hours of driving. Highway driving point to point, with 200 gallons of fuel, when you know the truck stops and the park locations is a different planet from state highways and scenic byways with a 25 gallon fuel load and a family of three with two dogs who require restrooms and walk breaks. I suggested we try to stay under 550 miles a day. At this point I wasn’t really sure what speed we would feel comfortable towing our camper and had assumed 10 hours at 60ish miles an hour, less a couple of fuel stops and lunch would be a full day.)
So now that I knew I need to allow more time for travel, I went back to the drawing board and recalculated my days. We took out the Minnesota portion of our trip and choose to make Iowa and Wisconsin as far north as we would go.
What we discovered during the trip:
My plan was great in theory, but had a few problems on the road. (In all honesty it was a beautiful plan.)
First, was that we were trying to look up the Trip-Tik program on our phones in spotty cell signal areas while driving. The program takes a lot to load, and I became so frustrated at one point that my phone almost ended up on the side of the highway.
Our second problem was the day we traveled 525 miles. I was under Brad’s request for mileage, but we did not calculate the fact that most of our travel that day was happening on local highways instead of the Interstate. Narrow shoulders, winding roads and lots of stop signs make travel with a camper even slower. It was a very long day of driving by the time we pulled into the campground.
A third problem for us was the number of fuel stops. The F150 needed gas about every two hours. (25 gallon tank, less two gallons for safety, I hate hiking for fuel, at about 10 miles to the gallon with the big V-8 is about 220 miles. I would argue you could stretch that to three hours, but not everyone has the trucker bladder and backsides get a little sore at the two and a half hour mark.) This seemed like a lot of stops, but we were needing the breaks as well.
We tried to target truck stops along the route, especially where we could get our Good Sam gas discount! (All the truck stop chains have some kind of loyalty discount, but using the Good Sam discount at Pilots and Flying J’s we consistently saved 5 cents a gallon and got the rewards points as well. Signing up for the rewards points at the truck stops is usually free, but the Good Sam membership will cost you money.) However, unless you are driving a diesel and can pull up with the semis, you’ve got to figure out how to navigate your truck and travel trailer through the pumps with all the autos. This was always more nerve-wracking for me that it was Brad.
Fuel stops also meant potty breaks, for both the humans and the dogs. By the end of the trip we had our routine down: Brad would fuel up while Ethan and I walked the dogs, then Brad pulled to some open parking where we would take turns hopping in the camper to use the bathroom and grab snacks, drinks, etc. Unfortunately, even at our quickest, these stops added about twenty minutes onto the GPS time. And the “beat the ETA” game isn’t really something you can play when pulling a trailer.
(All in all the plan was great, and if you are going on a longer trip I recommend taking the time to plan your routes and stops. By the third day we all knew our parts; be it prepping for a travel day, tearing down camp, our time on the road or when we stopped each night. We all had responsibilities for either leveling blocks or water connections, navigation or snack master, (this is a very important job and is not to be taken lightly! Oreo’s don’t hand themselves out.) I envisioned it as my own NASCAR pit team, a well orchestrated ballet of grace and elegance. Others seemed to think it looks like organized chaos. Maybe we will put that in another blog…)