Friday, December 3, 2010

Campground Reservation Dilemma

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
My wife and I are fairly new at RVing. We didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to secure a campsite when and where we travel. The reality of this time consuming chore never entered our minds during the years we dreamed of roaming around North America in our travel trailer. It has taken The adventure out of our sails. Our utopian plans of throwing out the anchor wherever the wind blew us has turned into the nightmare of securing reservations well in advance and putting ourselves on a schedule. We thought our time clock days were behind us and now find ourselves rat-racing around and keeping a daily planner again. Is this a syndrome that many Rver’s suffer with or will we finally overcome our fear of being site-less and end up in long lines with people that refuse to be sent to the reservation system?
--Dan in Demming

Dear Dan:
It’s a fact of life. A majority of campgrounds have become bookie joints. The future holds more of the same. You can let it corral you or use it to your advantage. It is not a perfect world we have created. The old saying, “If given lemons, make lemonade,” applies here to your feelings. The realities of the road are often much different from the picture ads you have been drooling over for years. That said, it is still a wonderful lifestyle. You have to weigh the difference of planning your trip far in advance and knowing you have secure sites, or winging it and taking your chances. The deck is stacked against you if you decide to wing it. There are actually scalpers who buy up the best sites and seasons in many state and national parks and resell them in bidding auctions on Ebay and Craigslist. In Florida, for example, many state parks have gone completely to reservations. Even if you do find a site during the week, you often have to move out on the weekend because they have been completely booked months in advance. Many National Forest Campgrounds have gone to reservations. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon it won’t be necessary to book ahead at Camp Walmart. The boondocking days are dwindling. It’s a numbers game we call supply and demand. Many places that used to be free are now charging for two reasons -- #1 because they can, and #2 because of overuse. In the present economy you will find many free campgrounds full of unfortunate people who have lost their homes to foreclosure. There have already been attempts to erode the Senior Discount from government campgrounds, and with state budgets in the black water tank you are finding fewer services and less maintained facilities at higher fees. My advice is to stop dwelling on lemons and adjust the sails and make lemonade. There are still many wonderful places to drop anchor. You can arm yourself with more information using campground directories, computer websites, fellow campers and news media to find those gems that few have discovered. Eventually, you will find places appealing enough and you will know when you want to return and for how long. At that point “Book ‘em Danno,” and you will end up loving the reservation system.
--Keep Smilin’, Dr. R.V. Shrink


Doug said...

I think you are being a little pessimistic. We seldom make reservations in advance and don't have that much of a problem. The times that we do have problems is at destination locations and in the summer. It all depends on when we come off the road. We try to be in camp by 3:00 at the very latest and generally more like 12:00 to 1:00. You will have problems if you wait until 5:00 or later.

Fred Wishnie said...

This is not our experience at all. we have been full timing for almost 5 years now and are constantly moving. We are prone to hear about something and take off in that direction.

Although we do do research before hand and often make reservations, they are made on short notice. If you maintain some flexibility on where you stay, I feel you can pretty much fly by the seat of you pants.

Good luck,
Fred Wishnie

Anonymous said...

We are fairly new to the rv world also. We have found that there are usually vacancies. When we have an idea of where we might be by that night, we call ahead and ask if they have vacancies. The only time we get camping reservations ahead of time is when we are heading to a major tourist place. It also depends on what time of year, or if it's the middle of the week.

Mary said...

We used to vacation on a fixed schedule but something always managed to interfere with our days plans and therefore make me a nervous wreck. I needed a vacation when I returned from being on vacation. Now we do much of our traveling in off season and I don't bother with reservations. Have seldom had a problem getting a site for the night and we DO NOT stop traveling until 5-6p sometimes later.

Julianne Crane said...

I understand completely the frustrations of the writer. We are currently in Florida and have encountered difficulty in securing sites at state campgrounds where there are frequently no 'drop in' sites available.
And, the costs have really climbed. One night at a state campground in Pennsylvania we paid $32 for a spot with no services.
As you said, that's the new reality of life on the road.

Anonymous said...

We are full timers and snow birds. When leaving the warm climate, we map out our trip and know which campgrounds/rv parks we will stay. Sometime we do make reservations and sometime we just call them while on road. Most of the time this works well.
One time when traveling through OK, we were phoning the campground we wanted to stay. Due to a tornado going through there a few weeks earlier, all the campgrounds were full and some were so damaged no one could stay. People were very helpful to us and one campground owner, in the area told us to try this little RV park, and we found a lovely RV park with a restaurant next door. We will stay there again. Most will help you or suggest places to try if they don't have room. So worked out well that time. This has only happened to us one time in 3 years where we didn't have a place to stay but ended finding a great place.

Rollin said...

What part of the country are you in, I wonder if that makes finding RV sites problematical?

We have traveled the west a good bit, up into the Northwest for 3 months, then back down south, and have almost never had problem finding overnight or longer accomodations. We often use Walmart and rest areas for short overnights (and shopping).
We carry RV Park guides and our GPS and laptop with aircard, and when we're getting ready to call it quits, do a bit of work and find the next place ahead.

Being footloose allows us to stay longer when we find a place we love, or to simply move on if the mood hits us.

When hitting the busy national and state parks, we tried to do our traveling on weekends and hit the parks on weekdays, "against the traffic" for most people.

We're completely self contained with genset, so we're good for dry camping.

We've read and researched the many warnings about safe boondocking and such, and have never had problems, Thank the Good Lord and common sense.

If it's a busy time, such as hitting Moab on Jeep Safari weekend, we've made our reservations far in advance, or done some of the most delightful drycamping ever.

If there are health or other issues that require greater assurance of accomodations, that's another matter.

But we've always been blessed to find something to fit our needs, and we absolutely love the free in the wind kind of travel.

Anonymous said...

...And don't forget to check out "RV Park Reviews" on the web- it's really helpful and sometimes entertaining.


Anonymous said...

We traveled 13000 miles this summer just winging it. We only got locked out of a site a couple of times. We found a boondock site or stopped at a Walmart. It was no big deal. If I had to make reservations for campgrounds, I would sell my motor home. Out west it is easy to find a place to stay. The east coast is another matter. Boondocking is difficult and truck stops are very noisy. Go west young man.... go west.

Anonymous said...

Check out the Trailer LIfe and Woodall's campground directories. Often you will find commercial campgrounds very near our destination. We have been fulltime traveling for 4 years and even when calling for a spot that same night, we seldom have to call more than 2 campgrounds. Daily rates will be higher, but check out the weekly rates.

Chris said...

Try to get into the site of your choice in the early afternoon, well before dark. Always have a "plan B" site that you can also get to before dark if the first one is full. Having a "plan C" is also a good idea.

Anonymous said...

You might be more comfortable joining Thousand Trails or a similar camping reserve. Since they are now offering zones, you don't even need to purchase a national membership unless you plan to use it. Check the secondary market. You will not be turned away from a full campground.