Major Destinations

The next step is to set the major destinations you want to hit. We did a lot of this when we created the layer for the NASA Visitor Centers, but visiting all them on this trip is not feasible, and some are more important and worthy of a visit. We first dropped the California locations because that is just too far to travel. A good rule is to not drive more than 300 miles in a day when towing a large RV. It is a more strenuous driving experience than a car, and you should not drive very fast. We plan to drive at around 60 miles per hour for increased safety, so 300 miles would mean 5 hours of driving. Then you have rest stops, and when you get to where you’ll spend the night you need to set up the RV, which takes time. And when you get ready to leave you have to take down everything, which also takes time. So this becomes a parameter in your planning. You may find that some of your major destinations are more than one days drive, which means you have to plan stopping points along the way, as well. But it all begins with setting your major destinations.

What I did next was to investigate each of the Visitor Centers to make sure I knew the hours of operation, entry fees, attractions there, and anything else useful for planning. If a particular site does not look interesting, it can be skipped. To facilitate sharing with my wife I set up a Google Sheet to record this information. Here is an early shot of it:

Spreadsheet of NASA locations and data
Spreadsheet of NASA locations and data

The three on our definite list were the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Our idea was to spend at least a week in each location, and maybe more if there were other things to do in that location. Then we could fill in with other locations when practical. To reduce the total amount of driving it would make sense to start in Houston, then work our way east from there to get to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

So let’s see how that would work. I open my map of NASA sites in My Maps (First, open Google Maps, then go to Your Places, then to Maps, open the map and select to open it in My Maps). Then I click on the pin in the map for the Johnson Space Center, and then click for directions (that is an icon with two arrows, one to the left, the other to the right). I enter my home address in Michigan, and Google gives me a driving route. This will be a “fastest route” driving, but it is a good starting point. Also, it is important to note that Google Maps does not take into account height restrictions, which is important for towing a large RV. Ours is just under 13ft (approximately 4 meters) in height, and we don’t want to give it a bad haircut. There are resources for checking that which need to be used before you nail down anything. In looking at the route, I notice it goes right by Memphis, Tennessee, and that is a place that we might want to visit for a couple of days, so that is worth noting as a stopping point. To add it to the trip, just click Add destination in the Layer box on the left.

Next, I wanted to see the Step-by-step directions to get more data, and this is where I encountered what to me looks like a bug (but with Google, you never know). I had to close Google Maps, then reopen everything in My Maps to get the option to view Step-by-Step directions. This is in the “three-dot” menu in the Layer box. Opening this told me that the route Google picked would cover around 1300 miles and take over 19 hours. Now as I said, that is not what I want to do in a day. My objective is to go about 300 miles in a day (roughly), so to me this looks like a trip that should take 4 days. If we decide to stop in Memphis for a couple of days, that would make it 6 days. Looking at the map and just eye-balling it, Terre Haute, Indiana looks to be about a 300 mile trip. When I did a quick check on the side with another Google Map, it turns out to be 342 miles. So now I have a candidate for the first stop. Then Terre Haute to Memphis turns out to be 390 miles. That is bit much, but then I notice Nashville, and from Terre Haute to Nashville is only 261 miles. So spending a couple of days in Nashville first, then going to Memphis is 212 miles. We could then spend a couple of days there. From there, Texarkana is 278 miles. And from Texarkana to Houston is 290 miles. So now I have a tentative route that takes about nine days, and only one day is over 300 miles driving, and that is the first day. Not too bad. And with a couple of stops in Nashville and Memphis, the travel is broken up with some sight-seeing.

The next step is to plan where we will stay each night. We have a couple of memberships that can help with this and give us discounted stays. One is Escapees, and another is Passport America. So I look into what options they have. Escapees has on online mapping tool that clearly uses Google Maps, and you can either search near a specific location or put in a route and see what options you get. I first entered Terre Haute, and selected “within 50 miles”. I got several options, but the one closest to our route looked to be Fallen Rock RV Parke & Campground, in Brazil, Indiana. When I plugged that into my side map, it ends up being only 328 miles from our start, and still pretty close to our route. That makes it a great option. The other way to use the Escapees mapping tool is to put in a route you want to travel and let them suggest possible camps along the way. I did not see anything around either Nashville or Memphis, however, and checking them as specific destinations instead of as part of a route confirmed that there was nothing there. So it is on to Passport America.

A note on side maps: My main planning maps are in the My Maps section of Google Maps, but sometimes you need to check something quickly. The best way to do that is open a fresh instance of Google Maps and check a route, see how long it is, etc.

Passport America has a lot more options. The directory here is a printed book, arranged by State (US) and Province (Canada). Going to the Tennessee section, I see that Spring Creek Campground is not too far from Nashville, and Big Buck Resort is not too far from Memphis. Now, the point of looking through these places (Escapees, Passport America) is that you can get discounts. There are limitations, however. Sometimes discounts are not available when demand is very high, and often weekends are not discounted because they will fill the slots with customers paying the full amount. There are other options, like parks, and Army Corps of Engineers sites. These can be even cheaper, or at least comparable in price to the discounts, but the difference is that often that you don’t get the full hook-ups: electricity, water, and sewer. And there are areas on federal lands where anyone can camp, subject to a few restrictions, for free. These include Bureau of Land Managment lands (BLM), some national forests, etc. They may restrict you to certain areas, and the general rule is that you cannot stay in any one area for more than 14 days. These never have any amenities other than nature. One problem is that the vast majority of these lands are in the western part of the country, so if you want to visit the east you are out of luck.

But the planning process proceeds by slotting in stops along the way as we have outlined. Work out how far you want to drive, find some likely overnight stops, etc. The next step is to check the tentative route Google gives you for any possible problems. There are several ways to do this. First, there are apps that you can use. There is a site called RV Life that is membership site, and it includes the RV Trip Wizrd, which is a nice planning tool. You can put in your RV’s height and weight so it can help you plan a safe route. An annual subscription to RV Life runs $49, but I got it at a discount because one of the YouTube RV channels I follow got a discount for us. Then there are printed resources like Truckers’ map books that can do something similar. However you do it, don’t leave this step out. You could do something like totally destroy your RV if you run into a low bridge, and even if you see it and stop in time, trying to back out could take a long time and make for a very bad day.

The last step is to call the parks and make reservations. Now, some people like to just hit the road and take their chances, but that does not always work out well. There are certain parking lots you can stay in over night, but this has problems. I cannot even get into my bed unless I put the slide out, and that is at best risky, and at worst just not allowed. And with the discounts I can easily afford to pay for a night in an RV campground.

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