The question I hear most from people interested in going camping is, “Where should we go?” Here are seven steps to plan your perfect trip:

Step 1 – Decide on your goal destination such as, Grand Canyon or Zion National Park and how long you are planning to be away.

Getting ready to plan

Getting ready to plan

Step 2 – Maps are essential. The easiest way to plan is to use paper maps. If you are a member of Automobile Club of America (www.aaa.com)  you can get free maps; otherwise you can find them in your local bookstores. If you are picking up maps at AAA, also get their “Tour Books” for the states you will be visiting. These books will be helpful to you later on.

Step 3 – Now that you have your maps, locate your home and goal destination. Study the map for all possible routes and highlight them. Alternatively, you can go to MapQuest (www.mapquest.com). Enter in your home address along with the goal destination and MapQuest usually will offer a couple of options on how to get there. Highlight your maps if you desire.

Once you have some ideas on routes, start searching for stops along the routes to see where you may like to visit on the way to or from your goal destination. You can do this by utilizing your AAA Tour Books, TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com), or search for the city/park/etc. as there is usually a website to be found that includes sights to see and activities in and around the area.

This is really a fun step to get the kids involved. Get them excited about a certain activity such as hiking, Junior Rangers, rafting, zip lining, fishing. Ask them to help determine some Must-Do’s on the trip!

Step 4- Using MapQuest, use your home address with the destination that you would like to be your first stop. It is essential that you consider how many hours your kids can realistically be in the car. MapQuest will give you the approximate mileage and time it will take on average to get there. Remember that MapQuest is based on the speed limit and with most RV’s or trailers; the speed you will be traveling is more like 55 mph. Take the miles and divide by 55 to get the real time between destinations. Make sure to add in time for generous gas, bathroom, snack and stretch breaks!!

Get your kids involved in this step too. Have them start thinking about what snacks they would enjoy on the road. Offer them what you want them to choose from and they can create their own “snack sack” for the road. Additionally, they can help determine what toys, activities, movies they want for the drive. My kiddos love to pack books, plain paper (for games of Tic Tac Toe) and for car games we make up as well as their tablets for movies (gives us grown-ups some quiet time) and/or music. Don’t forget the head phones or you will be listening to the songs from Frozen for the whole trip!

If at this point your stop still seems reasonable you can move to the next step. If not, try looking again for possible stops. Remember, it is OK to find a stop that you will just camp overnight and continue on your journey the next day.

Continue through your days in this manner until you have a skeleton itinerary for your whole trip. You can modify later if necessary.

Step 5 – Find a campground. There are many things to think about when selecting a campground and I will be writing a post on all the nuances of this task but for now, I will share a few ideas on how to find a campground.

The first thing to consider is if you will be requiring hook-up services (electric, water, sewer, Wi-Fi, Cable, etc.) or if you are OK with no services (called dry camping). My rule of thumb is three nights or less for dry camping and services for longer stays. If you have a generator you will have the benefit of electricity while dry camping. For our family, we don’t have one and this mom can only do without her comforts (i.e. air conditioning (if hot), coffee maker and microwave) for so long!

Next, type in the city/place you are looking to stop at into Google. This will bring up both above options. Open a few and see what you think. Once you find one or two that you like, see if you can find reviews. TripAdvisor has been adding campgrounds into their “Specialty Lodging” section so I always check there first.  When typing the campground you are interested in into a browser, you will see other sites that may have reviews.  Coming soon on my website will be reviews of the campground I have personally stayed at.

Other helpful websites are Recreation.gov (www.recreation.gov) or Reserve America (www.reserveamerica.com). These websites offer options for National, Federal, State, and sometime City campgrounds.  Reserve America charges a non-refundable $10 reservation fee.

One of our family favorite campgrounds is KOA’s. You can go to their website directly at www.koa.com and type in the city you are looking for. KOA is very family friendly and most often, family owned. What we love is that they almost always have a playground, a pool, a small store (in case you need a bit more milk or an ice-cream), and other fun camp activities. On holiday weekends, many will offer a low-cost pancake breakfast. This allows for a welcome break from cooking, as well as, an opportunity to meet other campers. We try and stay at least one KOA on every trip.

Step 6 – Now that you have chosen your campground and made your reservation, you can start putting your itinerary together. I like to use Word. Here is one of my entries for our upcoming vacation (yes, this is a LONG driving day but kids are up for it). For easier navigation, you can add the miles for each step noted by MapQuest, I definitely do this on more complicated driving days so we don’t miss a turn and end up going out of our way.

Day 1 – one night (approx 479 miles/9 hours)
Home-Flagstaff KOA

5803 U.S. 89, Flagstaff, AZ 86004
(928) 526-9926 (Add confirmation # if you have)
I-15 to I-40E
Exit 201 towards US-89N/Page
½ mile on US-89 to Page
Left at Smokerise Drive
Arrive: 5803 N. US Hwy 89

Step 7 – Continue these steps for the rest of your trip. Also, you can add a “Activities by Day” page and include reservations (i.e. train rides, tours, etc). Feel free to add in all the things you would like to do at that stop so you don’t have to really do research once you leave your house!

It seems like a lot of planning but you will enjoy watching your vacation start to unfold.  With each trip, I have added more planning on the front end which allows me less worry and stress while on the road. I find that even though there is a plan, we are always ready for the impromptu moments that just catch us.