Planning a Re-positioning Trip

I'm seeing more parking lots in my future

I’m seeing more parking lots in my future

Usually I don’t like to share a map of my big re-positioning trips before I get started. The biggest reason is because on these kinds of trips I don’t have time to stop and visit with people, and posting my route is almost guaranteed to bring comments from readers who live or are traveling along the route and are wondering about a meet up. Sorry everyone, but coming out of the winter (volunteer) season I don’t have the money to spare on meandering and sightseeing. So I prefer to get these trips done as quickly as possible to save on money and because there’s a time crunch (my first day of work at Yellostone will be the 11th). Sightseeing and visiting happens once I’ve established a home base at the new location and have income rolling in.

But I thought I’d share this one with you, to give you an idea of how I plan these kinds of trips. There are a series of steps I follow.

Look at possible routes

Google Maps is my go-to tool for route planning. I don’t own a single traditional map, which boggles the minds of many RVers. I’m just not good at reading a map, and I certainly couldn’t look at one while I’m behind the wheel.

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If you look at this map, you see I have three possible routes. Now really I have a nearly infinite number of routes if you take into account smaller country roads and more scenic routes which many full-timers prefer, but remember: I’m keeping this as simple and quick as possible to save on gas and stress. It’s possible I could find routes with fewer miles if I did all back-country stuff, but that would be more starting and stopping, and harder navigation. It’s just easier to stick to main thoroughfares.

Take note of the drive times for these three routes, vs. actual miles. The middle route through S. Dakota approaching the park from the east has fewer miles than the northern route, but takes more time to drive. That means it’s more direct but probably smaller roads with lower speed limits. Normally, that’s ideal for me when towing: I stick to 60 mph when towing Cas no matter the speed limit, so the listed drive times on Google are inaccurate for me – the miles matter more.

But that’s not the whole story. The eastern road into Yellowstone is the most mountainous, the pass into it is closing in on 10,000 feet and it isn’t open for the season yet. I found this out by keeping in touch with my employer in Yellowstone, and by zooming in on that road in Google Maps to note how squiggly it was and the elevation markers. This is something you’ll want to do when you’re route planning, especially out west. Take care to note how curvy the road is and what the elevation looks like, because some passes you wouldn’t want to take an RV through.

So if the middle route is out, do I choose the northern or southern?

Look at Weather sites

Weather Underground is my favorite, but others do the job too. This time of year, it’s possible that the northern route while favorable with it’s lower mile count could be too cold – I still don’t have any propane heat source and I’d like to dry camp the whole trip to save on money. Other times of year, I’d choose a northern route over a southern one to escape the heat.

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Look at this. Yellowstone is still getting below freezing every night, not comfortable sleeping weather and not good for my plumbing. But Livingston, MT, north of the park by a couple hours is not getting below freezing at night, the magic of elevation change. A quick check of other cities along the northern route reveal the same thing: no freezing temps in the 10 day forecast. I pulled these pictures up today, but even a week or two ago when I first started looking at the route the same was holding true. If you’d like to plan your trip far in advance, Weather Underground has a calender feature that will give you average highs and lows for a city for any day of the year, very handy for planning.

Look for likely camping spots

For these trips I’m not looking for campgrounds, I’m looking for free overnight dry camping locations. I use Overnight RV Parking to do my searching. It costs $24.95 for a year long membership, but you get free weeks for reporting on the locations you’ve stayed in, so I have yet to have to renew my membership. Considering the number of nights I’ve camped for free instead of having to find a RV park, it’s been well worth it for me.

My first long drive from South Carolina to South Dakota, I drove 1,221 miles in 2.5 days. I was really worn out by the time I got to Sioux Falls. Now I like to keep my daily driving to around 300 miles max. At an average of 60 mph, 300 miles would be five hours of driving. In reality it’s more like six or seven though when you factor in stop lights, traffic, construction, gas stops, and potty/eating breaks.

The northern route from WI to WY is 1,252 miles, so 1252/300 miles = 4.17 days. That works out quite well. It means I’ll have four full driving days, and on the fifth day I’ll arrive at the park early to have plenty of time to get settled in before night falls and the temp drops.

So now I go along the route and break it up into chunks of 275-325 miles, looking for towns along that 50 mile stretch where there are likely to be camping locations. Here’s Bismarck, ND, which falls in the stopover range for the second night.

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Look at all of those bright green pegs! They’re all confirmed free overnighting locations, this is a viable area to stop for the night. Mousing over each peg tells you what it is, and clicking the peg brings up a blurb to the right of the map giving you all the details. I clicked on the peg marked “3”, which is for a Cracker Barrel.

Putting it together

Once you’ve picked a spot for every night, you’re done! Now that you know what towns you’re planning to overnight in, you can keep a closer eye on the weather as the time approaches.

I favorite my destination for each night in Google Maps on my computer once I have it figured out, so that when I use the Google Maps app on my phone for GPS my destination for each night is already there. It’s a pretty painless way to get where you’re going without having to stop and consult a map.

This method has worked well for me for an easy trip experience but it’s not the sort of planning you’d want to do for the slower kind of traveling where the trip itself is the goal. When I was doing that kind of traveling with Julie after Amazon let out, I left things a lot less structured on purpose to allow wiggle room in case we decided we decided to spend more or less time in a spot or discovered something else along the way we’d like to see.

I’ll be leaving early tomorrow (the 5th) if all goes well, and arriving in Yellowstone on the 9th. I like planning to arrive to work-camping gigs two days early if I can, that gives me more time to get settled into a spot before the work starts, or if something goes wrong on the drive gives me a grace day for fixes. With luck, you’ll be hearing from me again on Thursday from the road. Safe travels and happy trails all!

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45 Responses to Planning a Re-positioning Trip

  1. jonthebru May 4, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

    Safe travels.
    Quick question. You mentioned stress, does having someone with you allow you to not have as much of that stress? It seems you would talk it out or share it somehow with your companion to lessen any impact.

    • Becky May 4, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

      It decreased some kinds of stress and increased others Jon. Having another person means there’s one more person to help you troubleshoot problems while traveling and means you have a dedicated navigator and can trade off driving duty when one person gets tired. But then you also have to share an already small space with another person, and need to take their needs and desires into account.

      I came to the conclusion that if Julie and I were to travel together permanently, I’d want a larger RV. Or perhaps even better, I’d want us each to have our own RV. The benefits would be I’d still have the RV all to myself and could keep things small, but I’d be caravaning with someone who would be willing to help out if something were to go wrong with the RV on the road and I’d have the ready companionship. If either of us decided we wanted to do something else for a while we could go our separate ways for a while and meet up later. Someday, I’d like to travel with other like-minded RVers in a caravan, I think it would be a neat experience.

  2. John L. May 4, 2015 at 8:14 pm #

    Wishing you a safe, trouble free journey to beautiful Yellowstone! I was there in 2012, and it snowed on Memorial Day!! Such a lovely place, I took literally thousands of pics…the wildlife is truly A-MAZING!! Have fun, be safe!

    • Becky May 4, 2015 at 8:48 pm #

      Thanks John. It’s looking like there will be snow the day I arrive, oh joy! That’s okay, with electric hookups I’ll be toasty inside Cas.

      I’m looking forward to sharing it with you all.

  3. Mike May 4, 2015 at 9:57 pm #

    Safe travels.

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:39 am #

      Thanks Mike

  4. PJ May 5, 2015 at 1:14 am #

    It will be so much fun reading about your adventures in Yellowstone! Maybe I missed it, but do you know what your work there will entail? Don’t miss the “hike” (its a road) up Mt. Washburn – it is really neat. It starts way up high so you get lots of elevation for just a little effort.

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:41 am #

      It’s a retail job PJ, I don’t know all the details yet so I can’t share them. I will once I know though. 🙂

      I’ll look into Mt. Washburn, thanks.

  5. Richard May 5, 2015 at 6:46 am #

    Becky,
    Not sure if you have ever been to Yellowstone, but you’ll love it. My wife and I go there every year. Below is a link to road construction in the park this summer. Isa Lake bridge is closed until June 11th if coming in from Cody (East Entrance). If coming in through the Northeast entrance (Red Lodge to Gardiner, MT) check the road condition through Beartooth Pass. Maybe our paths will cross this summer.
    Richard
    http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:43 am #

      I’ve been there once before when I was 14 Richard, looking forward to seeing it as an adult.

      Yes, my contact in Yellowstone has been telling us about the closures, going to be an interesting summer! Thanks, and it sounds like I’ll be primarily inside the visitor center at Old Faithful, so if you’re there stop on in. 🙂

  6. Marcia GB in MA May 5, 2015 at 6:49 am #

    That’s a great way to plan your straight-to-destination-trips. May your travels be happy and safe!

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:43 am #

      All I can say is it’s worked for me Marcia, thanks!

  7. Pismo Pauly May 5, 2015 at 7:12 am #

    Just love following you on your site! Safe and happy travels to you!

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:44 am #

      Glad you’re finding the journey enjoyable Pismo, thanks!

  8. Carol May 5, 2015 at 7:42 am #

    ? I would like to here about the no propane heater do you have 1thats not working or not 1 at all ,
    Happy Travels
    Carol

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:57 am #

      Not one at all Carol, no furnace in my Casita and I haven’t needed to purchase another kind.

  9. Jo May 5, 2015 at 8:05 am #

    Thank you, Becky, for this comprehensive post. I am soon about to head out on my own again and can benefit from your explanation and experience. Safe travels!

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:58 am #

      Have fun Jo! I’m glad you’ve found this helpful. Enjoy your trip. 🙂

  10. Jim@HiTek May 5, 2015 at 8:20 am #

    Be careful what you wish for, caravans can be a pain in the butt. But, they can also be, as you said, a source of companionship and assistance.
    Jim@HiTek recently posted..Hanging around in Georgia…My Profile

    • Becky May 5, 2015 at 8:59 am #

      I wouldn’t stick with one that was a pain in the butt. I’m thinking more of a loose association than a rigid “go here then there” kind of thing. 😉

  11. Becky May 5, 2015 at 9:00 am #

    Alright everyone, packing up the computer and hitting the road now! Future comments and e-mails may take a while to respond to while I’m in travel mode.

  12. Jodee Gravel May 5, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    Glad to see that’s how you plan a route and stops along the way. I’ve done the same method for our initial route – dividing up the miles by the max number I want to travel reduces the stress of encountering any unknowns because I figure at least it is all within a manageable distance 🙂 I feel even better about it now!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..One Month Til Launch – OMG!My Profile

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 12:42 pm #

      I hope it works as well for you as it does for me Jodee!

      I’m reporting from a rest stop along I94 in ND right now, free WiFi! It’s been rainy today but not the kind that slows traveling, I’m making better time than expected. Figured since I’m ahead of schedule and have WiFi might as well catch up on comments. 😛

  13. Jim at Growing Faith May 5, 2015 at 9:47 am #

    Safe travels to you!

    Another site I like for climate information is here:

    http://www.weather.gov/climate/

    When you have some spare time, you can play around there.

    Thank you for sharing your strategies with us.
    Jim at Growing Faith recently posted..Gone FishingMy Profile

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 12:43 pm #

      Thanks for sharing Jim, when I get to Yellowstone and have more time I’ll take a peek. So far my trip is going well.

  14. Richard Stumreiter May 5, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    I admire your travels. I look foreword to reading them. I will be in Yellowstone in august for 2 weeks. Thought it would be nice to met you in person, if at all possible to. Say hi at your workplace

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 12:47 pm #

      Hello Richard, glad you’re enjoying IO.

      I don’t know yet what my schedule is going to be like yet but yes, everyone is welcome to stop in and visit, just understand that if things are busy I might not have much time to talk. 🙂

  15. Janett May 5, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    Ya know…this would have made another great e-book Becky!
    It’s also important information. I made a huge mistake relying strictly on GPS when picking up the Scamp in W. VA. I found myself on a very narrow mountain road (well, they call it a road) with no guard rails and curves with maximum speeds of 10mph…I went 2mph! When I reached the mountain top I had to pull over and peal my hands off the steering wheel so I could get out an calm my nerves. I wish I would have asked in advance for a better route or at least checked Google Maps for those squigglies…lesson learned. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

      Yikes, sounds scary Janett! I found one of those roads on the way to Great Basin state park in CA, well you probably read that post and know. 😉 it’s a good lesson indeed to check for squiggles!

      • Janett May 7, 2015 at 5:17 am #

        Oh yes, the “Bear Creek Road” post. And you were towing Cas! I was just alone in the Jeep but so excited finding the trailer I wanted an actually getting it, that I forgot all about that road from squiggles! I sympathize with Julie though…I never outgrew the car sick thing either.
        Can’t wait to hear more about the road to Yellowstone and your first impression. 🙂

        • Becky May 7, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

          99% of the time Julie is just fine, only happened twice in her adult life, and both times where as a passenger when I was towing Cas on a squiggly little back road. I do still feel sorta bad.

          Travel post just went up!

  16. Terri May 5, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    Excited for you to be at Yellowstone! Not so excited for the snow that will be there on your first day 🙂 I love your discipline and how you plan out so many things in advance. No one can ever say that you are not prepared in everything that you do. I can totally understand not wanting to show the route ahead of time. You have a place to be and you need to get there, and you don’t have a lot of extra cash lying around to detour off of your path.

    Drive safely, Becky.
    Terri recently posted..Why I’ve Chosen to be VeganMy Profile

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

      Thanks Terri, the drive is going well so far! I can’t wait to share Yellowstone with everyone.

  17. Amber May 5, 2015 at 11:06 am #

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing. I’m not on the road yet, but this is a great post to refer back to when I get to travel more. Plus, I just find it interesting how different people go about planning their travel. 🙂
    Amber recently posted..Home Depot…the flowers have exploded!My Profile

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 12:54 pm #

      Yes Amber, best thing you can do to prepare to go full-timing is read about how many different people go about it and take a bit from everyone. Glad you enjoyed this!

  18. Karen May 5, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    Thank you! I’m an armchair FT RVer and have often wondered exactly how all you wonderful adventurers manage repositioning, especially if it’s to a place you’ve never been. I love following your travels and hearing about the nitty-gritty of life on the road. Pretty pictures are nice but I delight in the details, the minutiae!

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 12:56 pm #

      You’re welcome Karen! I think everyone does it a little differently and it is fun to learn from others. I hope someday you get to do some RVing of your own and then share with us how you travel. 😉

  19. Dennis Smith May 5, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    We use the 330 travel plan. Drive 330 miles or stop at 3:30 which ever comes first. Of course sometimes it a little latter or longer but that is our plan. Nice and easy days and time to stop and smell the roses. I keep it under 65 for the gas use and let them pass us or honk the horns at us. You will love Yellowstone, a neat place to spend a summer. Been there 3 times and its on the bucket list to go again. Just be careful, 220 degree water burns really fast if you touch it.

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

      Haha, yeah I’ll be staying out of the water Dennis, the lake is too cold, the springs too hot.

      I’ve heard variations of that travel plan before, most notably the 2-2-2 version. No more than 200 miles, no later than 2 pm, stay at least 2 nights. 😉 Your version is more agreeable to me, 200 miles really isn’t much.

  20. Steve May 5, 2015 at 7:05 pm #

    Thanks for the trip planning strategies.
    Steve recently posted..A Field of Yellow Across the HighwayMy Profile

    • Becky May 6, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

      You’re welcome Steve!

      Okay all caught up on comments, time to get back to driving!

  21. Jim May 20, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    Becky,

    I guess you are at Yellowstone by now. I enjoy your blog, especially the 30 second videos. It makes me want to learn how to use YouTube and create a blog.

    I know you will see many things. You may want to stop by Madison Campground one afternoon for a little picnicking. The campground is on a hill that overlooks two rivers and an opposing mountain, one hot river and one cold. With care you can find a comfortable spot in the water. We also saw elk about a mile downstream fighting off flies. The bugs weren’t bothering us though

    .https://www.google.com/maps/place/Madison+Campground/@44.4599636,-110.2827923,9z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x5351c38c465fe169:0x5ff3f3739f9091c1

    Enjoy,
    Jim

    • Becky May 23, 2015 at 11:43 am #

      Thanks for the tip Jim!

  22. sarah shillinger June 2, 2016 at 6:34 pm #

    Hi
    I love your posts and blog. I do, however, have a question. Do you have rooftop solar. If so did you bolt it to the trailer and how did you seal it. If not how do you handle power needs for 4 days of dry camping.
    Bast

    • Becky June 3, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

      I had no solar at the time of this post Sarah, now I have a portable solar suitcase that I set up and take down as needed. http://www.interstellarorchard.com/2016/02/09/solar-and-heat-for-boondocking/

      On this trip, I made it without draining the battery by treating it like tent camping. I used a battery powered lantern inside after dark and charged my electronics from the car while driving. Very bare bones living, but remember I was on a mission and most of my day was spent behind the wheel.

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