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Filed under: Preparation & Readiness, Traveling Tips

To Reserve or Not To Reserve

April 26, 2011 by · 12 Comments 

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Flowers and bumble-bee

(Photo caption: Bumble-bee and Flowers)

Now that we are well into Spring and moving toward Summer, it is time to begin the Summer travels.  For us, this involves a detailed planning process where we determine where we want to be when and then finding the appropriate RV parks, resorts, and campgrounds that will meet our criteria.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, we are full-timers so do not take a lot of trips to get away from it all; we look for other criteria (for example, since I work online, I always need to be connected).

The big question, though, is whether we should spend our time making plans, identifying parks, and making reservations or just wing it and enjoy what comes.  When we mentioned that we had made our reservations at a get-together of people about to leave on their own travels, it seemed fairly split on whether reservations were a good idea.  For example, one couple mentioned that they were going to be at an RV park about the same time we were going to be there—just a few days earlier. 

No vacancy

(Photo Caption: No Vacancy)

We let them know that when we called we had to postpone our arrival because they were completely booked by a rally.  The couple said that they would go ahead and call, even though they normally do not make reservations.  It turns out the park had openings for the days they wanted to be there, but then were completely booked for a few days, then had openings again when we would arrive.  So, they would have had no problem arriving without reservations, unless their plans changed and they arrived one day later; which is what would have happened to us with our original plan.

Now, maybe our desire for reservations started because of when we purchased our motorhome.  We bought our motor home in Albuquerque on the first Friday in October.  For anyone familiar with the major events that occur in Albuquerque, you already know where this is going.  For the rest of you, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is in Albuquerque the first full week in October every year. 

Ham-let

Ham-let the flying pig

This means that the kickoff day for the Fiesta was the day we were to take delivery of our motorhome.  So, when we tried to find a place in Albuquerque to stay, we were out of luck.  Fortunately, we found a lovely park in Santa Fe (Trailer Ranch RV Resort) that had an opening—and on a deluxe site, no less (since it was our “maiden voyage,” the owners presented us with a bottle of sparkling grape juice when we arrived).  Speaking of Trailer Ranch, they have a policy of no check-ins after 5 pm; if we had not called ahead, we would not have known that.  Also, every now and then when we call for reservations we are given hints about the best way to get to the campground—which is always appreciated.

So, with the Balloon Fiesta as our first experience, it is understandable that my wife is a bit worried about us arriving somewhere and not finding a place to park.  Once, just outside Houston, we were checking in and heard the clerk turn away a couple who just showed up—because the park was completely full (reinforcing her concern).  Over the years we have had to change our plans twice on July 4th (Massachusetts and Oregon), once on Easter (Myrtle Beach), once on Memorial Day (New York), and once on June 7 (Texas—no holiday, just a rally); and a number of times we have settled for sites that we normally would not accept because of how crowded the park was.  Have we traveled without reservations?  Yes, a few times; and they have always worked out fine (for example, twice we’ve traveled on I-40 in December—little need for reservations then).

Vacancy

Vacancy

We have heard stories, though, about people who drive until they feel like stopping and then are not able to locate a place to stay (in some communities you cannot even stay at WalMart!; and rest areas can fill up quickly and have short limits on how long you can stay—it is good to know the rules ahead of time).  My wife said that if this ever happens to us, she is through with the full-time RV lifestyle.  So, to make sure that she does not lose interest in our nomadic life, we choose to make reservations; sometimes a year in advance (like our reservations for the International Balloon Fiesta later this year to see Ham-let)!  So, let me know—do you make reservations or do you just head out and enjoy the adventure?

Comments

12 Responses to “To Reserve or Not To Reserve”
  1. My wife and I go camping a couple of times a year. Many times we meet up with a group of friends. I always my reservations months in advance. I don’t like to take chances. I think if you make reservations you can plan your activities and increase your odds of having a pleasant experience.

  2. Patti Faustini says:

    Hi Hoby! Great article. We have a trip north planned for very soon, and would like to make reservations (and I’ll try) but I’ve been warned it’s difficult this time of year because lots of snowbirds head north. We’ll see. I’ll let you know what happens. But I would rather than have reservations than not, given a choice!

    Happy Tales, Patti

  3. Diane Wilson says:

    We prefer reservations although it is a big hassle organizing how far you want to drive each day, etc. etc. And inevitably things change along the way. But the last thing we want is to be dragging at the end of the day only to not be able to find a place to park and relax. I suppose the time of year you travel and where your travels take you play a large part in the decision to reserve or not along with the amount of adventurous spirit you have, of course.

  4. Rick Morgan says:

    For us it really depends on where we are and what we are doing. Clearly, you need reservations in Albq. for the Ballon Fest. Yet, I would say that we only make reservations about 10 -15 percent of the time – and that is mostly if or when we are having to travel or find a spot on a weekend.

    That being said – Our RV is 26 Ft. long which typically gives us lots of options. Most of our camping is in State and National Parks. On occasion we have been put in “overflow” spots for a night. When on the “move” we make it a point to stop before 3:00 PM – which seems to improve our chances of finding a spot.

    While not “full time” – we are out on the road over 50% of the time and it will be closer to 75% this year. We like the freedom of not being tied down to a “schedule” that is dictated by needing to be somewhere at a specific time. Also, we never know for sure how long we are going to stay in any particular place.

    I don’t think there is a right or wrong here – it is more about style and personality. RVing is about having fun and “living the life” to that end I think it is best to do what makes you happy and what you are comfortable with.

  5. Hoby says:

    Patti, yes, it was trying to summer up north and winter down south that made us realize that for the best spots (for any length of time) you often need reservations–and well in advance.

    Diane, we also struggle with the distances each day; and often run into issues because there is not a campground where we want to stop. But, we seldom drive more than 4 hours in a day (normally less than that), so it is easy to adjust the distance when needed.

    Rick, very good points about it depending on when and where. For example, next door here in Mission most of the spots for next winter are already taken (one of the more popular parks). We ran into that in New York as well. While we don’t always know how long we’ll stay, we normally stick around at least a month–which makes it more important to have a reservation to avoid getting moved around several times during our stay (it is a full-day of work to pack up move and unpack with all the slides and other stuff). As for flexibility, since we normally have 1-month stays (with the associated monthly rate) we often arrive a day or two late or leave a day or two early; as long as we let the parks know they are really good about it.

  6. June Morrissey says:

    I really don’t want to have a “schedule”. That is too much like going to work, having to be somewhere at a specific date and time. The only time we have made reservations was for 4th of July and we made them the week before. We too usually start looking for our nightly stop around 3 p.m. I’ll go online to find the campgrounds that are about an hour ahead and then call for availability. We never have to give a credit card..the campground will say,” come on ahead, we have room” If we like the campground, the area or we’re just in need of a rest day then we will stay over another day or two. When we are traveling on the Interstates I use the “Next Exit” directory to also look up State Parks. With cell phones, internet access, and many choices in camping, we don’t see the need to regiment our lives.

  7. I always like to be on the safe side and reservations are always a must for me. I am a scheduler as I like to go to a place and make sure I see all the sites in the limited time frame that I have.

  8. Hoby says:

    June, thanks for sharing the excellent points about not having a schedule; of course, I had to smile at your comment about having a schedule feels too much like work, but then you talked about using the internet, next exit directory, and cell phones while traveling to find places to stay. Maybe it is because I work online, but that sounds like work to me ;) We have discovered that our schedule is very flexible and we have yet to be charged any extra by a park for moving dates around because of changes.

  9. Marly says:

    Well, it all has to do with personality and your personal tolerance for uncertainty. I really enjoy the process of planning our annual winter adventure. We tend to use KOA’s while travelling due to the proliferation of parks, online registration and some sense of service levels.
    Our camping destinations are based on sites we would like to see, climate and meeting up with friends.
    Therefore, I reserve up to 11 months in advance leaving some weeks flexible for last minute reeservations… For me, last minute means 6 weeks.

  10. Hoby says:

    Marly, thanks for the very good point about personal tolerance for ambiguity. My wife is a Clinical Laboratory Scientist, so there are 2 things at play–her low tolerance of ambiguity and her desire for organization (planning, scheduling, etc.). Like you, we make our choices for the same reasons, things we want to see (which seems to be the one that directs us the most), climate, and meeting up with friends and family. Also, we like spending time somewhere to really get to see the area–as full-timers, we realize that we do not have to try and see everything in a short time; we have years to see it all. I heard about a couple who did 26 states in 12 weeks; we’ve done 25 states in 4 years.

  11. Hoby says:

    Karen,

    We are like you in that we try to see the sites and attend events in the area. We normally stick around a while (which we’ve learned that a lot of RV parks want reservations from people who stay a month or two) and it helps to get tickets and stuff to events if we have a schedule.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Hoby

  12. William Weed says:

    I agree with many of the responses and that it appears personality plays a part. We have a 34 ft keystone travel trailer and found that we get tied down by making reservations. Sometimes we’re pushed beyond what we want to explore in the in between ride. What we decided was to purchase a generator which sits inside our truck bed or it could be attached off the rear bumper with a carrier properly installed. This allows us a lot of room for what is important for us. Before Rving, I hated to have to make reservations for vacations, but found that it was best when traveling by car, van etc. However, with the generator your options are more open. We have a Rand McNally road atlas which shows all the Walmart superstores and Sams club addresses in the rear section for each town. If that doesn’t work out, I’ve gotten permission to stay at large chain grocery p/l. Few if any have told me no. Overnight stay and move on.
    Think about the generator option. It is a great option for many people.

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