Tag Archives: Maps

Travel Planning: The Missing App is RVNotepad!

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!

Travel planning is fun!

Travel planning is fun!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

Windows Version of Trip Planner

Windows Version of Trip Planner

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    Looks like we are going backwards between Alpine and Tucson!

    Looks like we are going backwards between Alpine and Tucson!

  5. 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.

RVNotepad is now available online for tablets and phones, or in the original Windows version

Our first version of RVNotepad was written just for Windows, no internet connection required.  But we had so many people request access to it by phones and devices that we decided to build a web version, available to any device as long as you have an internet connection.

RVNotepad Online went live in June 2016.  The trip planner is a little snug on a phone, but I love it on the tablets.  Some features are not yet available in the Online version, but they are being added quickly.

Our next Version of RVNotepad for Windows will allow you to sync between laptop and the web.  So you can keep your local data for use in a bad Wi-Fi zone, but have access to lists of campgrounds, attractions, journals, etc. when you are walking down the street with your phone.

Give us ideas!

We are always interested in talking to users and potential users who have ideas for the product.  You can visit with us at Facebook.com/RVNotepad, and learn more about the app at RVNotepad.com

If you would like to subscribe to my travel blog, click on over to The Intentional Traveler Blog! We’d love to have you.

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.

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Furkot: A Funny Name for a Great Trip Planner

Furkot's map view of our trip planby Chris Guld  GeeksOnTour.com

There is no perfect Trip-Planning system, but that doesn’t stop us from continuing to look for one! Here’s a list of systems we have used:

  1. Streets & Trips (we even have a full set of tutorial videos on using this one)
  2. RoadTrippers – see article Roadtrippers for Trip Planning
  3. RVTripWizard – see article RV Trip Wizard for Planning your RV Travels
  4. Google Maps – not really a trip-planner, but everything else! Google’s My Maps and Custom POI Files, Mapping and Sharing Your Travels with Google My Maps

The latest system we are checking out is Furkot.com. It is a free website . There is no mobile app, but the mobile website works fine on either iPhone or Android. Furkot is not specific to RVs. It is generally for cars and motorcycles who need to book motels/hotels along the way. But campgrounds are in there as well and it is based on Google Maps so all the data in Google is available.

Yes, you need an Internet connection to plan your trip, but then it can be available offline for reference.

Planning a Trip with Furkot

It works a lot like Streets & Trips – that’s a good thing since we were so accustomed to S&T:

  1. Start a Trip by entering your beginning and your end destination. One additional feature that I haven’t seen in any other system is a checkbox to make it a “Round Trip.”
  2. Furkot automatically enters tentative night stops based on your settings for when you start and stop your day and how far you want to go. When you enter your own stops, the tentative ones will disappear. I LOVE this feature for showing us exactly where we need to be looking for our overnight stops.
  3. Dates: a feature that was always sorely missing in S&T was any kind of calendaring. With Furkot, it not only shows the date you will arrive/leave any give stop – you can also point to any place along your route and see what time of day you’ll be there! Here is what the “Plan” drawer looks like. Notice the Days and dates for each stop. And, if you change the start date, or the number of nights at any stop – the dates recalculate for every other stop. There is even a feature to “Lock” a date. So, for example, if you need to arrive in time to attend a wedding, you can lock that stop’s date and it will not let you recalculate other items in a way that gets you there late!
    Furkot's Daily plan view of our trip plan

Navigating a Trip that was Planned with Furkot

Furkot is not a navigation system, it is a planning system. That makes a lot of sense to me. I see them as very different things. We use a Rand McNally RVND7720 to navigate with the RV. It is always on the dashboard, and it has only one job to do. Each day as we set off on the road, we’ll look at our plan and enter just today’s destination into the Rand McNally. Then, we trust it to avoid low bridges, and propane restricted tunnels etc. We also use Google Maps on our phones. With Furkot, I can see our plan on the phone, tap on one destination and tap on Navigate. That takes me to Google Maps and it starts navigating to that destination. Good enough for me!

If you are the type of traveler that wants your entire route imported from your plan to your dashboard GPS, they’ve got you covered!

Export trip plan to GPS

We’ll try it out

We leave for a 3 month journey at the end of the week. We will use Furkot and write more about it in future articles, and on our Facebook Page. Let us know if you give it a try by using the comments below. If you’re looking for a trip-planning system, you owe it to yourself to take a look at Furkot. They have an extensive help system that explains everything you need to know.

Mapping and Sharing Your Travels with Google My Maps

At the recent FMCA Convention in Madison Wisconsin, we taught a seminar on Google’s My Maps. After the seminar we had a great conversation about making maps with Bob Weithofer who attended the seminar. He ended up sending me a link to a map he made just for his family along with an email that said:

We use Google Maps as a way to keep our family informed of our plans for the year. The places we have been are shown in the standard red tear drop marker. The places we are going to are shown as a star. Each location is numbered so they will know what order we are visiting these locations.

They can click on the marker and get the dates we will be at the campsite and possibly some information about why we are there. They can click on the star and have the physical address, phone number and website of the locations where we are and where we plan to travel. This is because I search for the location of the campground on maps and added it to my map. They also get the table on the left side. Finally, they have access to the photos we’ve attached.

The Big Picture view of Bob’s Map:

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A more zoomed in view of Bob’s map, with the legend in the left sidebar.

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This is Great! I’m always so happy to see that the topics we teach really DO have practical application for other people, and I learn things in the process as well!  Bob creates this map using Google My Maps, then he shares it with family members and any one else who he wants to know his whereabouts. The red markers are his actual stops, the places marked with a star are planned stops yet to come. The lines in between are just placeholders where he stores the mileage between stops. Each marker is numbered in the legend at the left, so his family knows what comes next. Each marker is clickable. When it’s clicked it pops up a dialog box that may contain the dates of the stay, the details of the location, and maybe even some photos of when they stayed there.

Geeks on Tour’s Map of 2015 travels:

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I create our travel maps in much the same way. The image above is our map for 2015. You can see all 12 of our annual RVing maps by viewing the Maps page of our blog. If you look closely at our map you will see two A’s. That is both because we have more than 26 stops, and because I made one “Layer” for our winter locations and another for summer. The third layer shows in ? icons because we have yet to go there. When we do go to a planned stop, I move it from the “Planned” layer to the “Summer” layer (something I learned from Bob!) Clicking on any point on the real map, will pop up some descriptive text and maybe some pictures.

Sharing Your Map

We’ve shared our maps publicly, so we can put them on our blog, but you don’t have to. Your map can be completely private, or you can share with just specific people. When you’re editing your map, you will see the option for Share at the top left – at least that’s where it is today Smile They keep moving it! You can copy a link to send to anyone you want to see your map, or you can invite someone to collaborate and edit your map by entering their email address, or you can make it public. If you do nothing, it is a private map.

There are many other uses for My Maps, e.g.

  1. A list of places in the world where you want to visit
  2. A map of all the National Parks with one type of marker for ones you’ve visited and another for ones you haven’t
  3. A map of all the places you’ve lived
  4. A map of where your ancestors came from

To use Google’s My Maps, you start with the regular Maps.Google.com. It’s best to use the Chrome browser, but not essential. What is essential is that you must be logged in to your Google Account. Check the upper right corner of your screen and see the circular icon – usually your face – that represents the account. If it’s not you, or it says, “Sign In” then click there and sign in with your Google account. Then click the 3-line menu, and then My Maps. You will then be able to open one of your existing maps, or create a new one.

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There is also help available on the same menu. If you are a Geeks on Tour member, here is a list of some of our tutorial videos just on My Maps:

  1. Creating Custom Maps #328
  2. Adding Pictures to Custom Maps #329
  3. Viewing and Sharing Custom Maps #330
  4. Custom Maps (My Maps) Drawing Lines #377
  5. Import Placemarks from Spreadsheet #379
  6. Import POI Data Set to My Maps #380

I’m so glad that Bob shared with us how he uses Google’s My Maps. If you use My Maps, please leave a comment below and tell us how you use it!

314.OT-Rand McNally TripMaker RVND GPS for RVs

In this third, and final, article about the Rand McNally TripMaker RVND 7710 GPS for RVs I’m going to talk about Route-Planning.  The other two articles were:

  1. What’s Up Ahead
  2. Multi-Stop Trips

Some of the comments to the previous articles specifically asked about routing.  We want to know that the GPS is not routing us thru low clearance bridges or on other roads that are inappropriate for RVs.  This video shows how to plan a route thru Baltimore.  Other trip-planning devices would take you thru a tunnel, but the TripMaker knows that there’s a problem there.  Watch the video to see how it works.

 

Low Clearance Bridges

I found a low bridge in Jacksonville, Florida for an example route.  Here is how Google Maps plans the route:

Jacksonville low bridge route, planned by Google Maps

Using Google’s Street View – you can see the low clearance!

Fullscreen capture 11112011 102655 AM

Here’s how the Rand McNally TripMaker GPS plans the same trip:

The Rand McNally avoids the Low Clearance in its route

Now that’s exactly what we want right?  The Rand McNally TripMaker simply plans a route that avoids the low clearance.

It doesn’t know all Low Clearance Bridges

Be aware that *no* database has all of the low bridges – so, you still have to use all the tools at your disposal.  For example, we are members of Thousand Trails and we’ve spent some time at the Ohio park called Kenisee Lakes.  If you read the directions in the Thousand Trails book, you are told:

Note: There are low clearance bridges on Mill Creek Rd. between State Route 45 and Forman Rd. and between Jefferson St and the preserve on Mill Creek.

Yet, when you use the Rand McNally TripMaker GPS, it will route you right thru that low clearance bridge.

DSCN1625

 

What you can do in these situations is to mark that segment of road.  When you zoom in and click on the road, you will see these options:

DSCN1627

If you mark it as ‘Avoid Permanent’ – then the GPS will never route you on that stretch of road again.  If you don’t care about marking it permanently, it is easy to use the ‘Detour’ feature to plan a different route right now.

 

Summary

Pros: If you are an RVer and you want to have lots of information available to you as you are traveling, you will love the  Rand McNally TripMaker RVND 7710 GPS for RVs.  As I wrote in the first article, my favorite feature is the ability to look at the amenities at the next Exit.  You also get alerts for State Borders, Time Zones, and certain Points of Interests.

You will see icons on the screen for different types of POIs (Points of Interest.)  For example, you see image

 

wherever there is a campground.  Simply touch the icon and a menu will pop up that includes contact information (Name, address, phone) as well as an option to ‘Route to Here.’

You can very quickly find Walmarts and Truck Stops and Route to them.

Cons: Although the screen is relatively large (7 inches) the resolution is a lot lower than I’m accustomed to on my tiny Droid cell phone.  I find I can view maps more clearly on my Droid.  And, if you’re accustomed to the touch screen of a smart phone, you will find the GPS touch screen to be clunky and slow to respond in comparison.

The TripMaker is slow to calculate routes.  To be fair, we have the ‘Beta’ version of the device.  They sent it to us to evaluate before it was available to buy – the retail version may be faster.  Also, it is faster when you’re planning a route starting from where you are.  I was often testing routes elsewhere.

The RV routing capabilities is both a Pro and a Con.  It’s a Pro because it does take your RV’s height, weight, and propane into account as it calculates the route.  It’s a Con because it’s not perfect – it doesn’t know about every low bridge, for example.  This is not the panacea that many RVers hoped for.

It’s hard to believe that, only 10 years ago, these devices didn’t even exist!  How quickly we’ve started taking them for granted and being upset when they’re not perfect!  I do like the TripMaker and we will use it for RV Navigation.  But, it won’t be the only thing we use. I will still consult the map on my Droid smart phone when I am questioning our route.  We will still plan the trips using Streets and Trips.  I haven’t yet tried to transfer a route from S&T to the TripMaker – I’ll let you know when I do.

And, oh yea … you’ll always see a paper map on our dashboard!

 

 

This tip brought to you by Geeks on Tour

Geeks on Tour is a membership website with hundreds of Tutorial Videos on topics of interest to travelers, such as managing digital photos with Picasa, Route-Planning with Streets and Trips, and sharing your travels with a website using Blogger. You can subscribe to our free enewsletter, or become a paid member and be able to view all of the videos in the Learning Library.

Microsoft Streets and Trips: Printed Directions

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We use Streets and Trips on our laptop computer with GPS to navigate while we’re driving, but I know some people that don’t want to do that.  They want to plan their trip, then print out directions to use while on the road.  When we produced our recent series of Tutorial Videos for Streets and Trips, we didn’t cover printing – so here ya go!

Printing Options

With your current route file open and on your screen, simply choose File | Print.  There several different formats from which to choose.  When you click on one of the choices, you will see a thumbnail that shows you what that style looks like:

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And, if you click on the button for ‘More Options’, guess what?  You get even more options!  These options deal with how much to print on each page:

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I like the strip maps, as shown in the image at the top of this article.  This combines the turn by turn directions with a view of the map with the route drawn in blue.  Very clear and easy.  We probably won’t use it much for ourselves, but it’s good to know in case I want to plan a route for someone else and give them printed directions.

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Trip Planning with Streets and Trips

by Chris Guld, www.GeeksonTour.com

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In today’s GPS-connected world, travelers have many choices for navigation devices.  Garmin, Tom-Tom, Magellan, and Copilot are just a few of the brand names for the dashboard devices that will guide you down the road.  Even our cell phone (Droid) has wonderful GPS navigation capabilities today.  But, for planning those trips, nothing beats a computer with mapping software like Microsoft Streets and Trips.

Time and Money Calculator

Streets and Trips, running on our laptop computer, has been our guide for all 7 years of our RV travels.  We’re currently on version 2010.  Below is a beginning level video to give you an idea of how easy it is to plan a trip and have the software tell you where to go, how long it will take, and how much you’ll spend in gas.  Traveling in an RV is a completely different story when it comes to time and money, than traveling in a car.  If you know where to change the settings, the software will take this into account.