Travel Planning: The Missing App is RVNotepad!
A guest post by Pamela Johnson, the developer of RVNotepad. I asked Pam if she would contribute this article because RVNotepad looks like a great tool for travelers and who knows it better than she who designed it! Thanks Pam!
Planning your trip is both fun and frustrating. I love dreaming of beautiful landscapes and fascinating history. But travel planning requires gathering information from a thousand different places, making choices on what to do and what to skip, and then finally, calculating miles, dates and costs. There are a lot of tools to help you with this challenge, but there were always a few missing pieces. This was obviously The Case of the Missing App!
Huge thanks to Jim and Chris at “Geeks on Tour” for the opportunity to contribute to their blog with this article!
Other bloggers, such as Living the RV Dream and Wheeling It, and of course Chris Guld here at Geeks On Tour, give me great ideas for what to see and do. There are wonderful websites such as History Here and so many others that provide lists of things to see. Other sites provide maps of campgrounds such as AllStays and again, so many others!
Once you decide on a general path, you can use google maps or your Garmin to carve out a turn by turn driving tour.
So how do we do this?
Four years ago, when Bill and I started travelling full-time, my first job as a techie was to explore the available tools, both paper and digital, and design our travel planning process.
For us, planning breaks down into 5 steps:
- Keep notes on the early research. Travel planning starts early and lasts forever. I browse blogs, watch travel shows, and look at local “visit” web sites. It’s the kind of “work” that makes quiet evenings more interesting. Dreaming about the future.
- Define a rough loop. Because we travel full time, we tend to plan large, long paths. This fall we will run from Pennsylvania to Northern California before it snows, traveling across the top half of the country.
- Find the big rocks. Productivity gurus claim that if you choose the really important things first, the smaller and less important things will fit in around them, like putting big rocks in a glass and filling it with sand. This is where I start looking through my notes for the important things to see and do along the way.
- Choose stopping points. In order to do this, I need to estimate mileage between the Big Rocks, decide if I want to break up the drive with quick over-nights or longer stops.
- Finalize plans with campgrounds and reservations. Of course whether or not you even make reservations is a topic for another blog!
The missing app
So here’s where the problems started.
- I found lots of apps and websites to give me trip ideas (step 1)
- I could plot a general path with Google maps and other routing tools, but could not see where my favorite stops and campgrounds were relative to the route. (step 2)
- As I choose how long to stay at each location, I could not tell what delays in one stop would do to the rest of my schedule. Was I going to get to the niece’s house by Thanksgiving if we spend an extra week in Tennessee? I tried using a spreadsheet and some date formulas, but it got pretty complicated.
- Over all, the existing apps really didn’t provide an overall soup-to-nuts process. I needed a place to gather all my research and then map out a plan.
So what does a computer programmer do when she discovers a missing app? She writes it!
RVNotepad is born
We started full-timing in 2012. It took about 6 months for my frustration with travel planning to become a decision. I needed to build an app. And if I needed it, perhaps others did also.
My idea was to keep all of our travel info, including trip planning, in one place. So RVNotepad includes journaling, photo management, expense tracking, vehicle maintenance scheduling, fuel tracking and, of course, trip planning.
This means that if I enter a campground or activity while I am planning, it is still in the app when I journal about where I went and attach a campground to the day. Enter it once, all in one place.
So now my planning process looks like this
- On quiet evenings, I read the blogs, web sites, or watch the travel and history shows and record ideas under “Attractions” in RVNotepad. I record at least the name, city and state so the location will show up on the map. Entering street address will make the map more accurate. Copy and paste it from the website if you don’t like to type.
- Then I sketch out the “Big Rocks” and let the planner calculate the distances between them. Note that these are “by-air” distances, so the more entries you make, the more accurate this will be.
- My next concern is driving distances that are too long for one day; I like 250 to 300 miles. So I insert stops between the big ones until it feels “just right”. Show the map occasionally so you can see the basic route.
- Finally, I choose campgrounds and add them to the plan. Again, copy and paste as desired. If you enter the campground price, the tool will calculate camping costs. Sometimes I cannot find a good place to park, so I need to back up to step 3 and choose another town to stop at.
- Check the route on the map to make sure you aren’t backtracking and going in circles! Glance at the cost calculator for an estimate of fuel and camping costs. If everything works, your travel planning is complete, until you change your mind of course!
For a more detailed tour of the trip planner in action, check out our YouTube video.
Give us ideas!
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Again, a great big thanks to Geeks on Tour for the opportunity to share this new App with you. Jim and Chris are always looking out for fun tools to share. They are my first place to check for gadgets and apps that make the travel life easier.