In Trip Planning

What is that place, and where can we stay?

In a previous post we talked about the planning we do before we depart for our trips to Europe. When people ask us how we decide where to go on the trip we usually answer that we do not. Our daily planning is fluid, but it is based on our trip highlights we set prior to departure, so while we do not have a set itinerary we do have 6 to 8 must see places that drive our decisions on how to proceed every day. This post talks about how we select places we go to next, and the thoughts behind those selections.

We are type A travelers. We tend to move very frequently as we have not learned to enjoy, like so many other travelers, the pleasure of sitting and chilling. After a couple of days in one place we are looking to move on. For this reason we are constantly scouting for the next spot we want to see. This does not mean we will not spend 4 or 5 days in one place, but that is an exception for us.

This means that nightly after dinner we are looking for our next stop on the route. Our unofficial target in Europe is someplace that looks interesting within 100km’s of where we currently are.

Picking the Next Stop

The obvious first step is to look at where we are now. Is there anything else we want to do in the town we are in, if not it is time to move on.

We begin by looking at what other towns are in the region we are in. We carry two travel guides with us on every trip. Ton tends to favor the DK travel books for countries, and prefers an actual book as it allows her to read while we are driving. I also download the Lonely Planet Guides for the country we are in on to my Kindle. The Lonely Planet books are currently available on the Kindle Unlimited Service for the monthly charge for the service. Both DK books and Lonely Planet offer road trip books for major European countries and these are Ton’s favorites as they match the way are traveling. Also, while the theme of road trips is the same, the trips themselves do not always overlap so having two guides gives us more options. These guides often give us some ideas for a series of towns to visit.

Another important source is other travelers we meet. Quite often in the evening we will have conversations with our neighbors and inevitably favorite places come up. People will often tell us not to miss a place so we will add it to the list of places to try to get to.

When we first arrive in a particular region we will try to gather some tourist information at the normal sites, tourist information offices, campground information desks, and big tourist sites. We sometimes consult these for ideas.

After the next stop is selected we divide up the work. I work on finding a place to stay and selecting a route. Ton begins to do more research on things to do in the town.

Check the Weather

We also check the weather for the day as that will have a big impact on our plans. At least twice during our travels we have re-routed ourselves because of the 10 day weather forecast. Even if the weather is not going to change our destination we need to know what to bring with us when leave François for the day, and it effects the places Ton selects to go see.

Selecting a place to stay.

I begin by consulting our go to place to stay app which is Park4night. Park4night is available on the Apple app store, and there is an android version of it. Park4night is a database of places that other campers have nominated for stays, the app owner has a group that then goes out and verifies the suitability of the site if there is a question. The database includes campgrounds, aires, parking lots where overnight stays are tolerated, and wild camping sites. It also lists parking lots that are not for overnight stays but can accommodate RV’s for day trips. One of the features I really like is that after you input the town you are interested in going, there is a map available that gives you an overview of all of the sites in the database keyed to what type of spot it is. This feature gives me an immediate feel for where the different options are located.

When looking at options for places to stay I tend to look at the options in this order, Aires, Campgrounds, and lastly free places. This is a very personal choice, and we run into many RV’ers who pride themselves on maximizing their free camping time.

A Spanish aire near Gibraltar.

I then look at the options for aires first. If there is a good aire and we do not require a campground I usually opt for the aire. Our priorities when selecting an aire are:

  1. Close to the sites we are going to visit.
  2. Price. Aire sites vary greatly in price from free to as much as €20.
  3. Convenient to transit. This priority goes up if we are having to stay away from the sites we want to visit.
  4. Secure. Park4night gives user reviews, and since it provides a pretty good automatic interpretation of most languages it is widely used by many nationalities. We primarily look for security problems in the past, and high noise.
  5. Service points. Many aires provide dump stations and water. A few provide electricity. Depending on the state of our services we may pay for an aire that has this rather than stay in a free aire that does not.

As a minimum every 3 or 4 days we stay in a campground, and after our last trip to Italy, Ton is beginning to think we should prioritize campgrounds over aires. If we decide to stay in a campground I will also consult the ACSI app as well as Park4night. ACSI is a campground service somewhat like GoodSam in the US. For a small fee (€20 for 2020) you gain access to discounts at campsites particularly during shoulder season. Typically with ACSI we pay €16-20 per night. The card pays for itself very quickly and I highly recommend joining. They will send the membership package to your home in the US.

For Campgrounds we have a similar priority list:

  1. Close to the sites we are going to visit.
  2. Price.
  3. Services available. We prioritize electricity and WiFi. Some campgrounds offer on site restaurants and bars but those are not important to us.
  4. Laundry room. Finding good laundry rooms is an eternal search for RV’ers. If the reviews specifically call out good laundry I will let Ton know.

Our lowest priority is free camping. We are very conservative in selecting this option, though I would guess we spend about 10% of our nights in free parking spots. If a city is offering an aire for a nominal charge, we respect that and will forego free parking 100% of the time. Park4night will list sites that people have spent the night in parking lots or even on the side of roads. In many parts of Europe this behavior is tolerated for short periods of time if you show no indication of “camping behavior”, which means no level blocks, no awnings, and certainly no chairs.

Our priorities for free parking are simple.

  1. Close to the sites we are going to visit.
  2. Security. We are very picky about this. I am looking for a site that has been reviewed many times on Park4night, with no security incidents and no indication that the police have ever asked anyone to move on.

If we cannot find any suitable places to stay using Park4night, and ACSI, I will consult another app called Campercontact (also in the Apple app store) and I will run a Google search for campgrounds. In a couple of cases we found sites that were not listed on Park4night by doing this.

Occasionally good sites are not available close to where we want to go. One example was Barcelona where we did not find a site we liked in the city and ended up staying about 30km’s away at a campground that offered a free shuttle into the city. Once in a while after I do a search and cannot find a site I like we end up changing our plans. This happened in Nuremberg Germany.

Once I finalize a place to stay I note the GPS coordinates for the site. We nearly always use GPS coordinates when navigating in Europe, as we find Greta Garmin our GPS system prefers them over addresses. There are three systems for GPS coordinates and I prefer the digital method. If the GPS coordinates use one of the other methods I convert them to digital coordinates by using a website called LatLong.net.

Planning the Drive

Often planning the drive is as simple as plugging the coordinates into Greta Garmin and going to sleep. For short drives that is often all I do. Occasionally we have to take longer drives and I want to look at alternative routes. For longer drives in countries that charge tolls we often will look to see if we should take back roads or go ahead and pay the tolls.

When faced with this decision I look at two apps to decide which way to go. The first is an app called viaMichelin. It is a road map application that allows you to input the size of your vehicle. You can also filter the route to allow tolls, freeways, and ferries. I like this app because unlike google maps which has all of the other capabilities of viaMichelin it has very up to date information on the cost of tolls in Europe. As this is often the key decision maker for us on long trips we often start with viaMichelin.

I will often review the turns for the last few kilometers of a trip on Greta when we are heading towards parking in the center of cities. Our experience is that this is when Greta tends to send us down roads best avoided in a RV. After reviewing if I have any questions, I will double check with Google Maps as you can often see the width of the roads clearer on that app using the satellite view.

Visit Planning

While I am researching where to stay and how to get there, Ton is researching what to do at the next place. She often does this research after I go to sleep as she tends to stay up later than I do.

She already has a very good idea about what is available from her country book. She then digs into the details about the town using the internet, and following up on recommendations she has gotten from other travelers. When I wake up in the morning she will often hand me a short list of things we need to do. She will also tell me if there is an interesting restaurant, brewery, or winery we should plan to visit, or if we are eating in for the day.

Auchan is one of the major grocery chains in Europe and often has a gas station attached.

Logistics

The final driver in our daily plans are the state of our logistics. Do we need diesel, propane, water or food. Do we need to dump our tanks and we cannot do it before we leave in the morning. Sometimes we are at a point where we may need something but not critically, and will adopt a if we see a place while we are driving we will swing in plan. Then if we do not see the place, the next day we will have to build finding whatever we need into the plan. We may have to research the location of a source of fuel, food, or propane. In general the cheapest diesel is located at grocery stores so the real homerun is when we find a large grocery with fuel. Fuel and groceries are easy and a simple Google search will give you locations for those places. For propane we sometimes use an app called Stations GPL to locate places we can fill our tanks.

With all of the planning complete we set off on our adventures for the day.

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