ONE OF THE BEST RV-ING TIPS I EVER GOT

A lot of memories on just one page: Double tick marks >> pointing east along I-40 tell me I drove that route twice with the RV. I can see I traveled 395 southerly twice, once turning west along I-40 and once heading south to I-10. Places where I camped, Shady Lane RV, Yucaipa Regional Park and Joshua Tree BLM South, are written with a Sharpie ultra fine point. I can also see that I traveled I-10 heading east one time.

I bought my first RV in 2013. Since then I’ve RVed coast to coast a couple times and have made a number of trips months in duration. In all I’ve logged tens of thousands of RVing miles, from near Canada in the North to Mexico in the South, the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic.

All of that required some serious route planning and route planning for an RV, as you probably already know, can be very different than route planning for a car. RVers, except perhpas those with the smallest of RVs, need to be concerned with things that people driving cars never have to think about: weight, length, height, width, road grades, special speed limits, where you’re allowed to drive, where you can travel with propane tanks and where you cannot, etc.,

My well used and dog-eared 2018 Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Atlas. I have another from years ago when I made my first RV trip, a trip that lasted 18 months. The markings I’ve made in them showing where I’ve been stir up memories whenever they’re opened. They are each like part of the family.

To accommodate their special needs RVers often turn to RV GPS units, apps and websites that factor in these special considerations, but one of the best RVing tips I got in my early RVing days, and one that doesn’t get as much attention in our digital world as GPS units or apps, was to get a good, old-fashioned, paper truckers’ atlas. I did, and it is something that I’ve been using since I first hit the road. It has served me well. It can do things apps or GPS units cannot. This is not to say I rely exclusively on this piece of seemingly ancient tech. I don’t. I have a dedicated RV GPS, and I use Google maps as well, but the truckers’ atlas plays pivotal roles in my route planning as well as in documenting my travels.

My atlas is a hard copy available all the time without a satellite signal that GPS requires, without electricity or batteries, and without an Internet connection. It doesn’t need to be updated frequently to fix software glitches in order work properly. In fact the most you can update it is once a year when a new edition comes out and that’s probably not necessary. My atlas is immune to the frailties that sometimes seem to plague things digital or electronic.

Perhaps the single most important reason I refer to my trucker’s atlas, however, is for safety. It highlights in orange all the truck routes on its pages, thousands of them it seems, and I use it to double check, to make certain that my GPS unit isn’t sending me on a route it should not. My atlas isn’t going to try to try to get me to turn off the only paved road for miles around just to send me down Zeke’s Hole Road, a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, or tell me to make a right turn, right into a lake, both of which actually happened with a GPS I used to own. I know that virtually any of the highlighted routes in the Atlas are safe for semi-trucks and therefore are routes that I can also travel safely with my fifth wheel without worrying about overhead clearances, weight or size limitations*. When my GPS suggests a certain routing I like to double check it against the atlas to see if it will be passable for my RV. Most people have learned–sometimes the hard way–that GPS units aren’t always correct.

At about 11″ x 15″, or when opened 11″ x 30″, this is a good size book. It’s only about 1/2″ thick, however, so it isn’t very heavy. A cell phone and wrist watch have been placed in the photo to provide a sense of scale.

To be accurate, my trusty old truckers’ atlas is properly referred to as the Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Atlas. Besides highlighted truck routes that give me peace of mind it also has other information you won’t find in a GPS unit or navigation program. It has a large, two-page map of the whole USA with all of the Interstates shown. It lists some low clearance locations by state, 40,000 city-to-city distances, populations and even some maps of Canada and Mexico.

Atlas annotations show where I've been.
Using blue highlighter I keep track of the roads driven with the 5th wheel in tow. Pink highlighter shows side trips made in the truck. Tick marks like this > show direction of travel. When they appear like this >< it indicates travel in both directions on the same road. I can tell from looking at this page I camped at Red Bluff RV Park while heading north, and Hereford RV Park too. I can see I made a side trip in the truck from Hereford to MacArthur-Burney Falls and another to Lassen Volcanic National Park. I can also tell I traveled I-5 north at least twice leaving it once on 299 and returning along 89.

Something else for which I use the trucker’s atlas, and this in another biggie for me, is to keep track of all the routes I’ve driven. As I travel I use Sharpie Accent Pocket Style Highlighters and Sharpie Ultra Fine Markers to mark the routes I’ve traveled and in which directions. I also make brief notes about campgrounds visited as to whether to return or avoid them next time through. Try that with a GPS unit. As well as being a chronicle of roads driven and places visited, opening the atlas from time to time inevitably leads to a pleasurable trip down memory lane. That alone is a big reason for me to keep my atlases and makes each worth much more than its price which at the time of this writing was less than $20.


Additional References:
Rand McNally Large Scale Motor Carriers’ Atlas: This version is spiral bound and laminated so writing inside it may not be possible.
Rand McNally Deluxe Edition Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas: Also spiral bound and laminated so maybe not so good for annotations.


*Disclaimer: I can make no guarantees or warranties about the accuracy of the information in the Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas or any other, or for the accuracy of information presented in this article. Always check with other sources including departments of transportation for route changes and exceptions such as construction projects, etc. Your navigational choices are yours and I can assume no responsibility for them.


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