We had a great time in the Southwest in the winter of 2021-2022, so of course we had to do another trip. But we generally do not like to repeat ourselves, so for this trip we decided to focus on the Southeast. And we went back to our plan to visit NASA facilities by adding a few of those to our trip. We also made a few decisions based on our previous experience. First, we took the length of the planned trip down to about 3 months. We had planned 4 months last time, then had to reduce it to 3 and a half months when I had some medical issues. But by the time we got to the end of the trip we decided that 3 months wuld be even better. And because of other plans we have in the spring of 2023, we needed to be home by the middle of March. So I started our planning with a departure date of 12/15/22, aiming to be home no later than 3/15/23.
So I opened up RV Life Trip Wizard in my browser, and started new trip with a beginning date of 12/15/22 leaving from our home. Then I made a change to our trip settings. We found that our planned drives of 300 miles ended up being too much, particularly when the mileage crept up 330+, so I changed our planned driving radius to 250 miles and started. One other thing we discussed was that instead of the 5 days of daily driving that we did going to and from the Southwest, we should stop for a few days at a time to keep refreshed, and maybe see some local sights. I found that with a 2-day drive we could get to Nashville, which is a city we wanted to see anyway, so I plugged in an overnight stop in Kentucky, followed by a week in Nashville. From there Memphis was a one day trip, so I added 7 nights there. Then another one day trip would take us to Huntsville, Alabama, the first of our 2 NASA stops.
From there I was looking to get to the Gulf Coast, around Mobile, Alabama, but that was too long a drive. So I found a stop in the middle of Alabama near some parks where we could find some hiking opportunities and do some sightseeing, and put in a 3 nights stay, followed by a short drive to the Gulf Coast, where we could stay for 7 nights. From there another one day drive would take us to the Florida Gulf Coast, just south of Tallahassee. Then we would go to St. Augustine, which was one of my wishlist stops before we planned this. And for this stop I made it 9 nights. Then it was on to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center for another 9 nights. Then we start the gradual movement north since we will be in February by this point. A 3 night stay near Gainesville, Florida sets us up for a week-long stay in Savannah, Georgia. This is really beautiful city that is well worth a visit. Then we move a little bit north to Charleston, South Carolina for a 4 night stay. this is another lovely southern city with a lot of sightseeing opportunities. Then it is on to Asheville, North Carolina for 5 nights, and then to Berea, Kentucky for 4 nights. Finally, a week at Cincinnati, Ohio before returning home on 3/12/23.
At this point it was just a draft. I had not made any RV park reservations, and things could change when we get to that step. And I had to get approval from my wife for the plan. The next steps would be to check the route for any steep grades or elevations, which would mean adjusting the route. And we also wanted to research a little more on things to do in each stop. What we don’t need to do is pack each day with activities. We learned last time that days off are a good thing. Sometimes the weather may be bad, sometimes you just need to rest, and about once a week you need to do laundry. We got into a good rhythm by the end of our trip last time, and I hope we can pick up where we left off. But I think we have a good starting point with this plan. We just need to do a little more planning over the next couple of weeks.
We took our draft plan and did another check, this time looking at how steep the grades would be. We’ve got a good truck, to be sure, but we don’t like a lot of steep, mountainous roads, and our draft had us in the vicinity of the Appalachian Mountains. We used Google Maps, which can be set to give a topographical view, but an even more helpful tool we found is Flattest Route. This can show you the flattest route between any two locations, with a histograph of both the elevation and the grade along your route, the maximums and minimums of both, and even suggestions for modifying your route by adding an intermediate stop. And while the home page uses all U.S. examples, I did also try European examples. Did you know that going from Berlin to Turin goes over the Alps, has 2000 meters of elevation and 12% grades? Well, now you do. We also made us of the topographic maps at https://en-us.topographic-map.com/. Note that if you enter using US English as your language, the front page will display a lot of US locations, but you can change your language, or just search for the area you are interested in. I could bring up Bavaria, for instance, while using US English as my language
When we reviewed our first draft, we had some grades that were a lot higher than we were comfortable with. We had encountered a 10% grade while towing our RV last winter (going into Clifton, Arizona), and we were pretty white-knuckled the whole way, so we wanted to be more comfortable this time. And it turned out that with a little work and a few modifications to the plan we could make it happen. Our new plan had us drop Nashville, but we swung a bit west through Indiana and came down to Memphis. We went to Huntsville, Alabama for a few days, and then returned to Memphis for an overnight. From there we went to Vicksburg, a major Civil War site, and then it is on to New Orleans. From there we move along the Gulf Coast to Mobile, Alabama, then into the Florida Panhandle near Tallahassee. Then it is on to Cape Canaveral, then up to St. Augustine, Florida. This is followed by Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Then we go across Georgia into Alabama and Mississippi, then north through Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, before returning home. We manage to hit three of the NASA sites we wanted to hit: the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the Stennis Space Center outside of New Orleans, and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. So this is shaping up to a really nice trip, and we are looking forward to it.
Once we had checked all of the grades and elevations, it was time to start making reservations. RV Trip Wizard gives you telephone numbers for all of the camps, so it is pretty easy to just run through the list and make phone calls. This can lead to more changes. For instance, a couple of places we called were not open in the Winter months. And a couple more did not make reservations as far out as our planned trip. Since we don’t like leaving things to chance, we looked for alternatives. It is more comforting to set out knowing that you have a place to stay each night. So over the next week I made the phone calls to lock in our stays, and was done by August 30. So it was then time to prepare the book.
We started this on our last trip, and we learned that we could improve it. The idea is to have a book that has all of your stops in order, and the planned routes. (Remember, we have a big rig to tow, so we can’t just take any road. We have to make sure it will accomodate our rig.) We also learned last time that it would be handy to have the information on the reservation, whether or not it was prepaid or if a deposit was paid, whether it would accept credit cards or if a check was required. It may seem odd in 2022, but there were several parks that only took cash or checks, no credit cards accepted. Taking the time to compile all of this into a book ahead of time really makes things less stressful on travel days because everything you need to know is right at your finger tips. I started by exporting the whole trip from RV Trip Wizard as an Excel file, then print out the maps, and then print out the e-mail confirmations where there were any. Some of those came with advice on the best route to the park once you were close, which is handy. With all of these the book came together, and planning for the trip was pretty much done.