The Most Dangerous Places for Overnight RV Parking + Safety Tips

After a long day of driving, finding yourself in an unfamiliar area without any RV parks in sight means seeking a safe overnight RV parking spot. Finding overnight RV parking is a challenge most RVers face at one time or another. Many RVers are concerned about this especially regarding safety. But generally speaking, you don’t have to worry too much—if you keep a few key things in mind.

RV travel is great because you always get to sleep in your own bed. But unknowingly choosing dangerous places to sleep in your RV could put your life and property at risk. That’s why even if your interior is comfortable you need to consider your overnight parking surroundings. With that in mind, I’ll discuss the top three risky places for RV travelers to park for a night or longer.

The three most dangerous places to park your RV overnight (or longer)

Before we get started, a reminder that there are exceptions to every rule. Please use your own judgment skills as you choose overnight RV parking.

Generally, staying in a dedicated campground or RV park with amenities is your safest overnight parking choice. Some RV parks and resorts even have gated entries to stop animals or trespassers from getting too close to campsites.

You may be on your way to a national parks adventure and you want to save money with a cheap or free overnight parking. We’ve all been there! Although there are many free RV parking options you’ll have to navigate additional hazards once you arrive. 

Let’s review the top three most dangerous places to sleep in your RV from the streets to the wilderness.

Camping in Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dangerous RV parking spot #1: On the street

Overnight street parking in your rig can be risky. In many places, it’s illegal to keep your RV on the street for an entire night. You could end up with a hefty fine or even get your RV towed.

Legality aside, it’s just not a great idea to park on the street if you can avoid it.

Potential thieves might see your RV as an easy target especially if they think it’s empty.

You won’t always have the benefit of security cameras from surrounding buildings either.

Instead of parking on the street, you should head for an RV-friendly parking lot. For instance, it’s not uncommon to see travel trailers and motorhomes with tow vehicles parking overnight at Walmart parking lots. Truck stops are usually filled with truckers at night and can be noisy but are usually safer than street parking.

In 2021, Love’s Travel Stops began the process of expanding its offerings by adding dedicated RV hookups at some of its travel stops. For complete details read Love’s RV Hookups: Comfortable RV Stays at Truck Stops?

You can also try overnight parking at other places like casinos. The national restaurant chain Cracker Barrel is also very RV-friendly. And outdoorsy big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, or Camping World also have large lots that can fit your RV, too! These retail stores usually have well-lit parking lots as well as security cameras. Some even have hookups or dump stations you can use for a small fee (sometimes they’re free, too!).

Dispersed camping at Quartzsite, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dangerous RV parking spot #2: In the wild

Some campers want to save money by boondocking or dry camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in the backcountry. The U.S. and Canada have large swathes of public land in national forests where you can park for the night, totally free of charge. But even when you find a good spot, dispersed camping comes with its own hazards.

Wild animals are one of the biggest risks of backcountry RV camping. For instance, if you set up a campsite and decide to cook after a long travel day you might attract scavengers like raccoons, possums, and skunks. Even taking the food inside doesn’t always help because they can still smell the lingering aromas.

In the worst-case RV parking scenarios, you might even attract a bear!

Most bears have trouble getting into a locked RV but that doesn’t stop them from trying. You might sustain major bear damage to your RV siding, doors, and windows. Plus, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep when there’s a huge predator at your campsite.

The wild is also a dangerous place to park your RV because you tend to be isolated from other people. Dispersed wild camping can be nice if you’re looking for peace and quiet but if nobody is around things can quickly go south in the event of an emergency. Boondockers tend to camp far away from other people so you won’t be able to call for help if your RV breaks down, a natural disaster strikes, or animal predators give you problems.

Camping at Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dangerous RV parking spot #3: Risky campsites

Another dangerous RV parking choice is risky campsites in geologically active terrain.

Just because RVers stay in an established campground or RV park doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re safe. Some campgrounds are poorly maintained or located in geologic hazard zones. 

Be thoughtful as you select a campground and a specific site for the night. Consider these external factors that may lead to trouble.

Dispersed camping near Scenic Highway 24, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Questions to ask before choosing a campsite

Is your site level?

An unstable campsite can lead to disaster if your vehicle starts rolling or if the ground gives way. That’s because landslides are another potential danger if your site is on a slope or located in a hilly area previously burned by wildfire. One bad rain and your RV could get wiped out.

What do your surroundings look like?

Are there many dead trees in the area? Is the foliage particularly dry or overgrown? These can be fire hazards so you should stay away from potential kindling material. In a wind storm, dead trees can drop branches on top of your RV.

Is there water nearby?

We all love a scenic lake view or the comforting white noise of a nearby river. But bodies of water can flood in heavy rainfall. If your site is too close to the water line you might get trapped in mud or several inches of water. Proper drainage is crucial. Always put some distance between yourself and nearby water sources.

Three tips for keeping your RV (and you) safe

Between the streets, wilderness animals, and geographically risky campsites there are plenty of places that could qualify as the most dangerous places to park your RV for the night.

But in this RV life, sometimes you won’t have much of a choice. For example, your itinerary plans might fall through. Or you may desperately need to save money. In these cases, you might have to spend a few nights in these dangerous locations.

In this case, it’s important for you to protect yourself and your RV from potential harm. Nobody can prepare for every eventuality but there are some things you can do to stay safer.

Camping at Sand Hollow State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV parking safety tip #1: Buy an RV security system

For starters, invest in a top rated RV security system. This is especially helpful if you spend a lot of time camping on the streets, in rest areas, or in parking lots. Urban areas tend to have higher crime rates so you need to protect your home on wheels.

Most security systems have cameras, alarms, and ways to contact the authorities if there’s a break-in. It’s also a good idea to upgrade the locking mechanisms on your windows. Switch to a keyless RV door lock too.

RV parking safety tip #2: Take precautions against wild animals

Curious animals may visit your campsite if they smell food or other strong scents. It’s hard to deter them completely but you can prevent damage and force them to keep their distance if you take a few precautions such as:

Consider storing your food away from your RV. Bear-proof containers could be a good investment if you frequently go boondocking. You could also place your food in hard-to-reach areas.

Place animal deterrents around your campsite. Most creatures will be too scared to approach you if you have motion-activated lights or foul-smelling deterrents.

Camping in Sequoia National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RV parking safety tip #3: Have backup communication devices

Nowadays most of us rely on our smartphones for everything. And for good reason! Our phones are more powerful than ever and are getting better all the time. But if you want to camp in remote areas, you might not always have a strong cell phone signal.

If something happens while you’re camping in a dangerous place, you’ll need a reliable way to call for help. In this case, you have a few options:

A satellite phone is a good investment. This device communicates via satellites not cell towers. It can connect you to help when no cellular connectivity is present. They’re also quite sturdy so you don’t have to worry about breaking them.

Buy a GPS tracker, satellite messenger device, and subscription. A GPS tracking device and a host of satellite messenger devices and associated subscriptions can let you send status updates with location information and an SOS/distress option that will immediately dispatch emergency crews in the event of a life-threatening emergency. 

Flares, smoke signals, and other non-electronic communication methods can also come in handy. Consider taking a wilderness survival course to learn how to use these methods.

Camping at Smokian RV Park, Soap Lake, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Final thoughts about safer RV parking

Camping in an RV is so much fun because you have endless options for overnight RV parking. But there are certain places like rest stops on highways that you may want to avoid. But if you can’t get to a campground, you always have options. Just keep an eye out for these dangerous places to sleep in your RV, so you can make smarter decisions when you choose a place to park.

For more on safety, check out:

Worth Pondering…

As Yogi Berra said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Why Paper Maps Matter in the Digital Age

Paper maps are the new dream boards for travel inspiration

Ever since Google Maps debuted on February 8, 2005, drivers have been using online navigation systems to get around. Gone are the days of printing a map from MapQuest or pulling out a massive paper map to navigate to your desired location—or so we thought.

Recently, there has been a surge in the purchase of paper maps, according to The Wall Street Journal. Some are likely purchasing the maps for their intended use of navigation but others, WSJ said, are buying the maps to hang on their wall.

A custom-designed map from a cartographer is being used more and more as a piece of art or as a way to inspire future travel. Tony Rodono, owner of Map Shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, confirmed that sales for maps have risen steadily by 20 to 30 percent year to year.

Burr Trail, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maps that are sold as art are often colorful and sometimes have a vintage vibe to them which has made them a popular decoration choice.

A video from Today referenced the coverage from The Wall Street Journal and cited a statistic from AAA which said that it made 123 percent more maps in 2022 compared to 2021. As another reason for the increase in map sales, Today said that many younger travelers are encouraging going off the beaten path and subsequently need maps.

Even if you don’t want to display a map in your home as art or inspiration, it might be a good idea to pick up a map for your car if you don’t have one. You never know when you could be traveling and your phone runs out of battery or you don’t have cellular service and need to navigate home.

Getting a paper map can save you stress and give you peace of mind that you have a tool in case you need it.

Fans say physical maps—though less efficient than digital options—enhance one’s journey. Among devotees are a surprising number of millennials and members of Generation Z.

Schnebly Hill Road, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mapping is a timeless science as well as an art that has been around since time immemorial. It has been used to identify places and find directions to destinations especially by early travelers and explorers.

In the 1880s, Iraqi archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam found a small carved tablet with an image of Babylon at its center surrounded by a vast salt sea. Historians consider this tablet roughly 2,500 years old, the earliest existing map of the world.

Even modern maps look quaint today when apps like Google Maps put practically every intersection in the world a click away. We rely heavily on this innovation. One 2022 survey by tire retailer United Tires found that in the 20 U.S. cities with the most cars per capita, 93 percent of drivers depend on GPS to get around.

There’s no arguing that Google Map is best for directions when driving some distance but when discovering what a new destination has to offer, printed maps can’t be beat. Google Maps have been recorded to be accurate almost 90 percent of the time.

But like with GPS, there’s always that 10 percent margin of error that might send a big surprise your way such as when someone is sent over a mountain pass that’s actually a rugged 4-wheel-drive-only road. Oops! Worst of all, when people look at these kinds of digital maps, they tend to believe they’re 100 percent accurate. Not a good idea.

Bush Highway, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As in the case of an Indiana couple, Ronnie and Bev Barker went missing along with their motorhome and Kia toad on a trip from Oregon to Arizona in April 2022. They had been heading south out of Coaldale, Nevada, a small community on U.S. Highway 95. Their motorhome’s GPS was their guidance system and neither had any qualms about following. With temperatures in the 20s by night it didn’t take long for Ronnie to fall seriously ill. Partly due to dehydration he finally passed away just two days before rescuers heard Bev’s repeated SOS horn toots and found the couple still together in their Kia.

Also in 2022 a North Carolina man died after his GPS led him to the defunct bridge that dropped off into a creek. The bridge had been inoperative for about nine years and any barricades had been washed away.

A man whose truck got stuck in snow while exploring the backcountry west of Kelowna, British Columbia needed to be rescued by helicopter last month (November 2023). Rescuers say the man was unharmed but the situation could have ended much worse and they are cautioning hikers and drivers about relying heavily on online maps that can be inaccurate.

Police said in a statement that the man was exploring the backcountry when his new four-by-four truck became stuck in the snow and he called 911. Since the driver couldn’t provide his co-ordinates, attempts to pinpoint his cellphone were unsuccessful. After locating the truck by air, a police helicopter landed in a clearing and hiked about 500 metres to rescue the driver and fly him out. 

The statement says search-and-rescue officials have seen “a noticeable increasing trend” of motorists relying on online maps to navigate forest service roads but those can be inaccurate and are not updated with current road conditions.

Paper maps can give you not only the bigger picture of where you are in relation to the community you are in but they also give the user the flavor and character of that community or destination.

Just think of how you approach a paper map. First you unfold it, then your eyes scan most of the surface area, then perhaps you zero in on some places of interest, then you might look at the key–you get the idea. It’s a whole process. And the fact that there’s a very tactile part of it, actually helps your brain to absorb the information more deeply.

Think of how you experience digital vs. paper maps. It’s kind of like comparing a fast-food meal to a fine dining experience. OK, I know I might be biased. But I have both. So the point is that both digital and paper serve a purpose.

Piano Bridge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Digital maps, while powerful, aren’t perfect navigational tools: Phone batteries die, cell signals fail. And though a smartphone can easily direct you to the quickest route taking it often means you’ll miss the best scenery. A paper map, more like those made by early humans, can provide a bigger picture. You can think of them less like comprehensive guides to reaching your destination and more like detailed portraits of areas of interest created by someone with deep, experiential knowledge. After all, while a satellite can highlight unpaved paths, cartographers actually walk down them.

Perhaps that’s why paper maps are regaining popularity. According to a spokesperson for Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency of Great Britain, “sales of custom-made maps exploded in 2020 with an increase of 144 percent compared with the year before. A year later, in 2021 there was a further 28 percent increase.” The AAA produced 123 percent more maps in 2022 than in 2021. A representative for the organization said enthusiasm for them is growing among millennials and members of Generation Z who account for half of its new members in the last three years.

The boom has trickled down. Tony Rodono, owner of the Map Shop, a retailer and cartography firm in Charlotte, North Carolina said sales are up a consistent 20 percent to 30 percent year over year. His customers, he added, aren’t just looking to maps for directions but as inspiration for future trips or even as art worth hanging.

Valley of the Gods, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indeed, many newer maps are more beautiful than useful. Delightful custom charts by Jen Urso of Steady Hand Maps in Phoenix, often foreground seemingly random details, like the best cactuses near her home. “There’s so much you can map,” she said. “It’s not just about streets.”

The bottom line: It’s a good idea to embrace both digital and paper maps, not only out of necessity, but also in order to enhance your map-reading experience and to increase your understanding.

>> DIG DEEPER

Worth Pondering…

I don’t want technology to take me so far that I don’t have to use my brain anymore. It’s like GPS taking over and losing your internal compass. It’s always got to be tactile, still organic.

—Andrew Bird

Why Paper Maps Matter in the Digital Age

Move aside Google maps, Apple maps, and GPS. People still love their paper maps.

Even if everything navigation is pointing in the direction of GPS, you’ll never tear some folks away from their paper maps.

As digital navigation tools continue to become regular fixtures in getting us to where we’re going, Google Maps is also looking at having an impact on establishing where we are. Google CEO Sundar Pichai blogged that, “one of the next frontiers for Maps will be to help the billions of people who live without a physical address get a digital one,” using latitude and longitude coordinates rather than a street address which he says would let more folks access things like banking and emergency services, receive personal mail and deliveries, and help others find and patronize their businesses.

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The global digital map market appears to be going places. San Francisco market researcher Grand View Research estimated the global digital map market to be worth $5.6 billion in 2018. The firm expects the market to continue to expand at a compounded annual growth rate of 12.1 percent through 2025.

No signal? No problem. No battery required.

For her part, Kendra Ensor, the vice president of marketing at Rand McNally in Chicago, says about five years ago the company started to see an uptick in Road Atlas sales. “After all, a printed atlas doesn’t require batteries or a satellite or cell signal,” she says.

Fear of those dead batteries or spotty coverage is a key reason cited by many of the people who responded to USA Today on social media about why they still use paper maps. 

“When we were in Nebraska last year with all the flooding, a paper map would have been helpful when both Apple and Google Maps told us to go down a flooded road,” says Barb Gonzalez, a travel photographer and writer based in Bend, Oregon.

There’s a host of other reasons for printed maps, though, from carefully curated collections for historical or scholarly purposes to artistic displays to the accidental stockpile from recent travels.

David Rumsey’s collection of over 150,000 maps is housed at Stanford University. Over 30 years, he amassed atlases, wall maps, globes, school geographies, pocket maps, maritime charts dating from about 1550.

For community planners, real estate agents, and engineers, paper maps are just tools of the trade.  

“Suddenly we have these driving directions in our pockets and everybody seems to have forgotten that all these other maps exist even though they clearly use them on a regular basis,” says Daniel Huffman, a cartographer and an honorary fellow at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “I don’t think there is much of a separate case to be made for paper maps versus paper newspapers or paper books.”

Snake River at Twin Falls, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Privacy: Paper maps tell no tales

To the extent that people fret about privacy, paper maps also won’t track you. 

Now, Apple emphasized privacy as part of its rollout for the latest iteration of Apple Maps: No sign-on is required, for example, and data collected by Maps while using the app including search terms, navigation routing, and traffic information is hidden behind random identifiers.

When you navigate somewhere using Google Maps, your every movement is often tracked where it shows up inside Google’s somewhat controversial opt-in Location History feature. Those seeking more privacy can enable Incognito Mode which will stop Google from saving your Maps search and navigation activities to your Google Account. The downside is you’ll lose some personalization features around such things as restaurant recommendations and traffic updates.

Covered Bridge Scenic Byway, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using paper maps to plan

There’s just something about unfolding a map and laying it flat on a table. It’s at the same time visceral and visual. You get the size, sweep, and perspective that’s typically lacking when you stare at a smallish screen or wait for the voice to tell you when to make the next turn. 

You may mark up that map as you pore over it for sites you might want to visit. It could be for a trip soon to be taken or it may represent the only manifestation of the dream of a trip yet to materialize beyond the map in your hand. 

“My dividing line: paper maps for planning and GPS in transit,” says Marty Levine in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Along Dike Road, Woodland, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For some people, a map is memory. It rekindles something else perhaps a cherished and tangible recollection of places they visited or once lived or it lives as a representation of ancestral ties like the birthplace of their parents or grandparents.

“My husband and I used a paper map to drive throughout Portugal during our honeymoon (in 2017),” says Andrea Schneider who lives in Austin. The couple highlighted their route in orange and yellow, to mark alternate days. 

At night, they’d review the spectacular high-speed toll roads and many tunnels they’d gone through and plot the next day’s route. Schneider says the map gave them a deeper insight into the country’s typography and highway system.

“This old-school approach to an international road trip was more interesting, reliable, and fun than depending upon Google Maps,” she says. 

The map is currently tucked away in a box with other mementos from the Portugal trip and Schneider says she plans to frame it one of these days.

“It’s a lovely keepsake and souvenir that can’t really be recreated via a GPS.”

Pinto Bridge in Fayette County, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this rapidly evolving digital world, paper maps add a sense of permanence. Roads and streets change for sure and no printed map can typically keep up with that pace of change. But printed maps aren’t just about plotting where you may be heading next. They’re as much about where you have been.

How do you use paper maps?

>> DIG DEEPER

Worth Pondering…

It finally happened. I got the GPS lady so confused, she said, “In one-quarter mile, make a legal stop and ask directions.”

—Robert Breault

Say Hello to Your Future Travel Companion: AI

Can you REALLY use AI to plan a camping trip?

If you have been following the news this year, you have heard much about the debate around artificial intelligence—that is using a machine to do things humans do—be it writing, painting, or solving problems that require human reasoning.

AI has become intertwined with every aspect of our lives. For the last 60 years, countless scientists and philosophers have worked hard to advance the field to what it is today. 

Say hello to your future travel companion—AI is here to make traveling both easier and more enjoyable. In the coming years, AI will transform nearly every step of the journey from planning your route and booking campsites to navigating unfamiliar destinations. Are you ready to let an AI assistant help manage your next road trip?

Wall Drug, a South Dakota roadside attraction © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hello AI

Artificial intelligence is slowly but surely making its way into every aspect of our lives including the world of travel. Increasingly sophisticated AI assistants are poised to become your traveling sidekick, help with the planning, recommend sightseeing spots and roadside attractions based on your interests, and provide anything else you may need along the way.  

AI technology aimed at assisting travelers has been in development for the past 5-10 years. Many of today’s major tech players like Amazon, Google, and Apple have been incorporating AI into their products to improve the travel experience.

However, AI travel assistants have only started to gain mainstream adoption in the last 2-3 years as the technology has matured. Improvements in machine learning and natural language processing have allowed AI to become more sophisticated and useful for tasks like trip planning, navigation, and travel advisories.

The future looks promising as AI continues improving and more startups enter the space. Within the next 5-10 years, AI assistants could essentially handle every part of planning and executing your road trip with little to no input from the traveler.

Truth BBQ in Brenham, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AI travel assistants: Your virtual tour guide

While traveling, AI assistants act as your personal tour guide. They can provide route directions and recommend restaurants and attractions based on your preferences. AI assistants can also offer real-time alerts about road construction delays and other travel advisories.

While traveling, AI assistants act as your personal tour guide helping you navigate unfamiliar surroundings and find what you need along the way. Their capabilities include:

  • Turn-by-turn navigation: AI helpers provide step-by-step walking or driving directions to your destination, identifying the optimal route in real time
  • Personalized recommendations: Based on your stated interests, previous travel history, and ratings of venues, AI companions suggest restaurants, attractions, sights and activities that you will enjoy the most
  • Transit: Many AI assistants can provide transit info and ticket purchases
  • Real-time advisories: AI keeps you up-to-date on local news, road disruptions, traffic conditions, weather alerts, and other travel-related information that impacts your journey
  • 24/7 assistance: AI travel assistants are available around the clock to answer questions, provide guidance, and handle any issues that arise while you’re traveling
A road trip on the Potash=Lower Colorado Scenic Byway near Moab, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AI assistants are making road trips easier to plan and more enjoyable

The convenience of having an AI companion handle many of the planning and navigational tasks of traveling frees you up to enjoy your road tip. You no longer have to stress over finding your way around an unfamiliar city—your AI assistant can provide turn-by-turn driving and walking directions and even alert you to interesting sights along your route. The goal is to make travel simpler and more carefree through the help of artificial intelligence.

By taking on many of the time-consuming and stressful tasks involved in planning and executing a road trip, AI is allowing people to truly relax and enjoy their road trips.

Camping at Palo Casino RV Resort neat Temecula, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the ways AI companions are making travel more pleasant include:

  • Reducing pre-trip planning hassles: AI assistants compare route and campground options, make reservations
  • Providing guidance and recommendations: AI helpers recommend tailored restaurant selections, sightseeing options, and activities based on your interests leading travelers to unique discoveries
  • Taking navigation duties off your plate: AI companions provide turn-by-turn directions, construction and traffic alerts and notifications of nearby points of interest freeing travelers from constantly checking maps

By automating so many of the hassles involved with planning and executing a trip, AI travel assistants allow people to spend more time actually experiencing a destination on its own terms. The technology aims to make our road trips as relaxing and enjoyable as possible.

Touring the Museum of Appalachia near Clinton, Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The functions your future AI travel companion will handle

As AI continues to get smarter and more sophisticated, the range of tasks that AI travel assistants will be able to independently handle during your trip will only increase. Some of the functions your future AI companion may take on include:

  • Planning full itineraries: Future AI helpers may autonomously schedule activities, tours, events, and meals based on your interests similar to what a personal travel planner would do
  • Making camping/dining reservations: AI travel assistants in the future could make campground/RV park and restaurant bookings for you based on your stated preferences for amenities, type of camping site, cuisine type, price range, and more
  • As AI continues to become more sophisticated over time, you can expect your future AI travel companion to essentially take complete control of planning and executing your vacation so that you can truly enjoy your time away without being distracted by trip logistics.
Touring Makers Mark Bourbon Distillery near Bardstown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

AI will transform every stage of your journey

In the coming years, AI technology is poised to revolutionize the travel experience from start to finish. Sophisticated AI assistants already on the market today represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s possible. The further integration of AI into our travels promises to make road trips less stressful and more memorable enabling you to focus your full attention on having an amazing experience.

Cautions to relying solely on AI

One of the problems with using AI will be similar to the use of GPS for mapping. People will rely on these results without independently thinking or confirming results. GPS can direct you to take a desolate dead-end road or railroad tracks. And AI can recommend (and possibly take over your vehicle where systems are integrated through smart devices) routes and events that AI wants you to use. Who can forget HAL in the movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey?

Touring Jungle Gardens on Avery Island, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved=

AdventureGenie went live May 1, 2023

AdventureGenie is the first RV planning program powered by AI. The company was co-founded by Scott Lengel, a former Microsoft senior technology executive and David Greenberg, AdventureGenie’s chairman, a veteran CEO/investor. Both men are RVers: Scott and his wife Lisa travel in a Newmar Ventana and David and his wife Becky in a Newmar NewAire. 

According to Lengel, the story of building AdventureGenie is a familiar one. See a need, fill a need. After spending years planning extensive RV Adventures across the continent, they found it painful to use planning tools to answer these simple questions:

  • What to do?
  • Where to stay?
  • How to get there?

The program pulls on a database of more than 25,000 public and private campgrounds and pairs it with proprietary AI-based algorithms to take planning the details of your next RV adventure to a new level.

Worth Pondering…

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. […] It would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.

—Stephen Hawking

Why People Are Ditching GPS for Paper Maps

Paper maps are making a comeback. Here’s why it’s smart to get one.

With GPS in our cars and on our smartphones, gone are the days of massive paper maps directing us where to go—or so we thought. Those old foldable maps are actually making a comeback, not just among the older generations that grew up with them.

The Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency of Great Britain, saw a 144 percent increase in sales in 2020 compared to the year before, a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal. And AAA said it produced 123 percent more maps in 2022 than in 2021, a boost the organization noted is being driven by millennials and Gen Zers.

Louisiana Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Northern New Jersey, Stephanie Kivett Ohnegian keeps an atlas in her car because “there are places where the GPS signal doesn’t work” or “the routing is ridiculous.”

In Portland, Oregon, Kimberly Davis has paper maps in her earthquake go bag—just in case.

And in Newport Beach, California, Christine McCullough has another practical reason for keeping the once-ubiquitous thick, spiral-bound Thomas Guides in her car. As the kids prepare for their driving tests, her edict is no phones.

Georgia Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Few folks would dismiss the fact that GPS for all its imperfections can be a godsend when we’ve lost our way—assuming it wasn’t GPS that sent us wildly off course in the first place. The same goes for Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze. And those apps are constantly evolving, too. 

Apple just delivered a redesigned Apple Maps experience with what the company insists is faster and more accurate navigation and more comprehensive views of roads, buildings, parks, airports, malls, and so on. 

Apple unveiled a new Look Around feature that is similar to Google’s Street View leveraging high-resolution photographs to let you see what major cities look like. 

Arkansas Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of its 15th birthday, Google is rolling out a refreshed look of Google Maps on iOS and Android devices and adding such new features as the ability for some transit riders to determine whether their bus or train is likely to be on the warmer or colder side.

GPS receivers are great for navigation and getting to where you want to go. Though apps like Google Maps are surely convenient there are a few downfalls to digital navigation, the first being that a smartphone battery can die. In a survival situation, paper maps provide a reliable backup to GPS receivers, smartphones, or tablets.

Alabama Welcome Center

The apps are also driven by artificial intelligence and satellite imagery to take you to your destination in the fastest way possible meaning you may miss out on scenic views and the expertise of a cartographer-drawn map.

Over-reliance on GPS has eroded our spatial awareness. You become more focused on your phone and less on your overall surroundings. When you follow directions from GPS apps or navigation systems, you don’t gain a full understanding of your environment. Instead, you become dependent on technology.

Despite its convenience, GPS receivers make us less aware of our surroundings. The broader scale and greater details in paper maps give us an advantage in geographic perception.

Florida Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where does that leave printed maps?

“Do they still make, even sell, paper maps?” That question from retired New York marketing executive Michael Lissauer is emblematic of our daily reliance on digital navigation.  “Other than in a history class, Europe before World War II, who needs a paper map?” 

It may surprise Lissauer and others that the answer to the question is yes. They’re actually on the rise. U.S. sales of print maps and road atlases had have had a five-year compound annual growth rate of 10 percent, according to the NPD BookScan. For context, in 2019, the travel maps and atlases category sold 666,000 units with year-over-year sales up 7 percent.

New Mexico Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tony Rodono owns and runs The Map Shop. “We’ve had a retail location in Charlotte, North Carolina for about 30 years and every day we get somebody walking in saying, ‘How in the world can you stay in business?’”

Not only is The Map Shop still in business but it is also moving to a bigger facility partly to manufacture three-dimensional raised relief maps that are vacuum-formed over a mold to help people get a better representation of an area’s topography. 

A few of The Map Shop’s older generation customers are skeptical of GPS, he finds. “They have a flip phone that’s tucked away with their map in their glove box for emergencies,” he says. But he’s seeing fewer and fewer customers who fit that description.

Tour Texas Information Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Members of AAA can still walk into a local branch and request a TripTik, the spiral-bound notebooks filled with fold-out maps tracking the route to their final destination. An AAA agent would highlight the route with a marker and point out sightseeing spots, restaurants, perhaps places to spend the night. You’d typically walk out with tour books as well.

As a signpost of the digital age, people nowadays can order TripTiks which first surfaced in 1937, online or through the AAA app and create a digital version.

Dave Arland still frequents an AAA branch before a big car trip. The Indiana public relations executive insists, “Nothing beats the high-resolution printed map! Plus printed maps don’t have an attitude like Siri, Google, or others!”

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I am a paper girl all the way,” says Cindi Gildard, a bookkeeper at Chase Leavitt in Portland, Maine. “I’m not a navigator. I wouldn’t know how to use a GPS if there was one in my vehicle.”

Instead, Gildard relies on the Maine Atlas and Gazetteer which she says is awesome and shows “old little dirt roads and where bridges were washed out.” The Gazetteer uses dotted lines, she adds, to indicate areas in the backcountry where you need four-wheel drive. 

>> DIG DEEPER

Worth Pondering…

It finally happened. I got the GPS lady so confused, she said, “In one-quarter mile, make a legal stop and ask directions.

—Robert Breault

Death by GPS

Ever been misled by your GPS?

For some, a GPS fiasco is simply an annoyance but in other cases, it can be a lot more serious.

Search, and rescue teams call it Death by GPS. It happens when a well-meaning driver follows poor directions from a GPS device and ends up in serious trouble. Despite the grisly name, not every victim dies from following bad directions from their GPS. But the name is a reminder of how high the stakes can be when you trust technology more than your own eyes and instincts. Here are some tragic stories from people who trusted their GPS more than their own commonsense.

Driving a major highway in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

GPS blamed in RVer’s death

An Indiana couple, Ronnie and Bev Barker went missing along with their motorhome on a trip from Oregon to Arizona. The couple were lost and stranded in the desert hills of Nevada. As more details come into focus regarding the Barker’s tragic final trip together, it became clear the couple’s GPS is taking some of the blame for the tragic outcome.

When searchers found the Barker’s motorhome on April 6, 2022, it was abandoned, stuck in the sand on a desert road. The family’s toad car, a Kia, was gone, presumably used by the couple after the motorhome got stuck. Searchers then worked on following the intermittent tracks left on the dusty roadway. After a couple of hours, they heard a car horn. It was signaling out “SOS.” The Barkers were found.

Burr Trail in Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beverly Barker was sitting in the front seat of the Kia following some of the last instructions her husband, Ronnie, had given. With their cell phones out of range he had told her to keep tooting the horn. Three short, three long, three short. Repeat.

Bev Barker was airlifted to a Reno hospital and was able to physically recover in a fairly short time. She was able to speak to the details of their disastrous trip. On March 27, they had been heading south out of Coaldale, Nevada, a small community on U.S. Highway 95. Their motorhome’s GPS was their guidance system and neither Ronnie nor Bev had any qualms about following the instructions it gave. One post by a family member suggests that a setting on the GPS allowed for off-highway direction. His feeling was this was where the problem really set in.

Country road in Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Barkers continued on, following the GPS’ directions. After her rescue, Bev Barker commented that the couple had seen other vehicles including at least one motorhome and so felt comfortable with where they were headed. That is, apparently, until the motorhome got stranded in sand that night. With no cell service, Ronnie and Bev decided their best course of action was to get up the next morning disconnect the toad car and use it to go find help to get the motorhome freed from the sand.

The next morning, March 28 they got into the Kia and headed off down the road in what they hoped was the direction that would get them help. Instead, just about two miles from the motorhome their toad car, too, got stuck in sand—and they were still out of cell phone range.

What followed were several agonizing days. Neither Ronnie nor Bev was in particularly good health. Ronnie was a cancer survivor and both he and Bev were diabetics and Bev is limited to the use of a wheelchair or walker. They hadn’t thought to take blankets or food or water with them when they left the motorhome. With temperatures in the 20s by night it didn’t take long for Ronnie to fall seriously ill. Partly due to dehydration he finally passed away just two days before rescuers heard Bev’s repeated SOS horn toots and found the couple still together in their Kia.

Driving the Piano Bridge in central Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Carolina man dead after following GPS to defunct bridge

The Hickory Bridge had been inoperative for about nine years and any barricades had been washed away. A North Carolina man is dead after his GPS led him to the defunct bridge that dropped off into a creek on September 30, 2022.

Phillip Paxson, a 47-year-old father of two girls had been driving his Jeep at night from his oldest daughter’s birthday party in Hickory when his GPS led him to a bridge that has been inoperative since heavy flooding in July 2013 destroyed it.

Driving a covered bridge in Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It was a dark and rainy night and he was following his GPS which led him down a concrete road to a bridge that dropped off into a river,” Paxson’s mother-in-law, Linda McPhee Koenig said in a Facebook post. “The bridge had been destroyed (nine) years ago and never repaired. It lacked any barriers or warning signs to prevent the death of a 47 year old father of two daughters. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends. It was a totally preventable accident. We are grieving his death.”

Authorities with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol responded to reports of an overturned vehicle in a creek near 24th Street Place Northeast—a private road—in Catawba County, according to WCNC.

Old train depot in Fort Langley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

GPS blamed for sending driver onto train tracks

Occupants were able to get out and train slowed down before train hit.

Stuck on the tracks with the train coming—it’s a hackneyed Hollywood cliffhanger but a scene that a driver and his passenger lived through in Walnut Grove, British Columbia in January 2022.

According to the report from the Township of Langley Fire Department, it was just before 8 p.m. The driver was following the directions from the GPS which apparently steered him down the railway tracks instead of the 96th Avenue roadway near 217 A Street. The car became stuck on the tracks.

The driver and one passenger tried to push the vehicle off the tracks. Then, as a train approached tried flagging down the engineer. They were seen, but not in time.

Fort Langley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The train operator tried slowing the train but there wasn’t enough track,” said Assistant Fire Chief Andy Hewitson. Both of the vehicle occupants were able to get clear of the collision. The train hit the car at slow speed and pushed it for almost the length of a soccer field before getting fully stopped.

In deference to the car’s driver, Hewitson noted it was dark and 96th Avenue and the railway right-of-way intersect at an odd angle at that location. A lagging GPS could obviously create issues, he noted.

“Technology is great but it might not always give you the right directions,” said Hewitson.

Nobody was injured although the early model vehicle will likely be a write-off, he said.

Driving a rural road in the Midwest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to avoid becoming a victim of “Death by GPS”

These Death by GPS stories are terrible but hopefully will help raise awareness around this issue. The advice for avoiding Death by GPS is simple: Trust your gut. If a road seems unsafe, go back. Search and rescue teams also recommend having paper maps that clearly mark passable and maintained roads. GPS directions are helpful to have but traditional paper maps might help save your life.

Most death-by-GPS incidents do not involve actual deaths—or even serious injuries. They are accidents or accidental journeys brought about by an uncritical acceptance of turn-by-turn commands: the Japanese tourists in Australia who drove their car into the ocean while attempting to reach North Stradbroke Island from the mainland; the man who drove his BMW down a narrow path in a village in Yorkshire, England, and nearly over a cliff; the woman in Bellevue, Washington, who drove her car into a lake that their GPS said was a road; the Swedish couple who asked GPS to guide them to the Mediterranean island of Capri but instead arrived at the Italian industrial town of Carpi; the elderly woman in Belgium who tried to use GPS to guide her to her home, 90 miles away but instead drove hundreds of miles to Zagreb only realizing her mistake when she noticed the street signs were in Croatian.

Driving secondary road in West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These types of mishaps often elicit sheer bafflement. The local Italian tourist official noted that although “Capri is an island,” the unfortunate Swedes “did not even wonder why they didn’t cross any bridge or take any boat;” the first responders in Bellevue were amazed that the women “wouldn’t question driving into a puddle that doesn’t seem to end.”

 For their part, the victims often couch their experiences in language that attributes to GPS a peculiar sort of agency. GPS “told us we could drive down there,” one of the Japanese tourists explained. “It kept saying it would navigate us a road.” The BMW driver echoed these words, almost verbatim: “It kept insisting the path was a road.”

Driving a country lane in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Something is happening to us. Anyone who has driven a car through an unfamiliar place can attest to how easy it is to let GPS do all the work. We have come to depend on GPS, a technology that, in theory, makes it impossible to get lost. Not only are we still getting lost we may actually be losing a part of ourselves.

Worth Pondering…

GOD IS GREAT, BEER IS GOOD, and PEOPLE ARE CRAZY!

I Did What My GPS Told Me: When GPS Replaces Common Sense

GPS is useful tool for navigation but it shouldn’t be followed blindly

The last thing you want in your travels is to turn down the wrong road onto what could be a dangerous route.

When a highway closes or you’re just looking for possible routes, it’s natural to consult a GPS or navigation app. But drivers need to apply common sense to a computer’s suggestions, starting with not taking RVs, buses, and other vehicles that aren’t up to the task down unpaved roads.

A recent snowfall blankets Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since Arizona State Highway 64 closed due to heavy snow between Grand Canyon Village and Grand Canyon National Park’s east entrance, a large tour bus, a smaller bus, and at least two passenger vehicles carrying tourists have gotten stuck on a forest road heading east from US 180 between Valle and Flagstaff toward US 89, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).

Moki Dugway (Utah) is not recommended for RV travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While tow trucks were able to free the other vehicles and head them back to US 180, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, with help from an ADOT snowplow, had to rescue 45 people from the tour bus as a recent snowstorm moved in. The driver of the bus, which was bound for Page, said his GPS unit recommended taking the forest road.

Related Article: Top 8 Tips for Planning a Road Trip this Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday Season

A recent snowfall at Angel Lake RV Park in Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office receives many calls throughout the year from motorists who get stuck following suggested alternate routes onto unpaved roads. It’s a big concern for ADOT during the winter when snowstorms can cause sudden and prolonged highway closures.

Burr Trail (Utah) is not an RV friendly route © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Sticking to the main highways is a driver’s best bet, especially during snowstorms,” said Audra Merrick, district engineer for ADOT’s North Central District.

“Our snowplow crews are out clearing these roads around the clock along with patrols from the Department of Public Safety and ADOT’s motor-assist vehicles. Don’t follow an alternate route that’s not regularly plowed during winter storms.”

Moki Dugway (Utah) is not recommended for RV travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Earlier, a Pennsylvania family wanting to see Grand Canyon National Park’s North Rim got stranded following forest roads suggested as an alternate route to State Route 67 which closes for the winter along with park facilities. A woman suffered frostbite walking 26 miles trying to get help while her husband eventually was able to call rescuers by climbing high enough to get a cell phone signal.

Related Article: 7 Driving Tips You Should Know

A recent snowfall blankets Pony Express RV Park, Salt Lake City, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sgt. Aaron Dick, the search-and-rescue coordinator for the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, said if a suggested road becomes rough or difficult to navigate the best thing to do is turn around. Motorists also can prevent problems by understanding the settings on their GPS units or navigation apps, starting with making sure they are ranking alternate routes by “shortest time” rather than “shortest distance.”

Piano Bridge Road (Fayette County, Texas) is not for RVs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The dramatic story of a British Columbia couple who made a tragic wrong turn on their trip to Las Vegas also offers a startling reminder of the need for road travelers to make plans and preparations before heading out on the road.

Albert and Rita Chretien were traveling from their home in Penticton, British Columbia, to a trade show in Las Vegas when their 2000 Chevrolet Astro ran into trouble on a logging road in Elko County in March 2011.

Covered Bridges Scenic Byway (Ohio) is not for high-profile vehicles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rita was rescued on the verge of starvation in early May after spending seven weeks alone in the wilderness. She told investigators she hasn’t seen Albert since he left with the GPS to try to find a state highway.

She had survived on a tablespoon of trail mix, a single fish oil pill, and one hard candy a day.

Recent snowfall at Angel Lake RV Park in Wells, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

She reportedly lost as much as 30 pounds during the 49-day ordeal, and family members and doctors agree she faced the prospect of death had she waited much longer to be found.

Related Article: Raise Your RV IQ with These Tips

Authorities shed new light onto the tragedy in November 2012 after elk hunters discovered Albert’s body in a secluded area west from where he set off.

Piano Bridge Road (Fayette County, Texas) is not for RVs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Albert had hiked nearly 9 miles on his winding route and was within 6 miles of the community of Mountain City when the battery in the GPS he was using probably burned out and his path began to angle too far north. Had he been able to keep his bearings, there’s a slim chance he might have made it to a highway and then into town.

As an added precaution, always carry an emergency survival kit in your vehicle.

Snow falls at Diamond Groove RV Campground in Spruce Groove, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And, if you travel in a big rig such as a Class A motorhome or fifth-wheel trailer and rely on a car GPS you could be in for double-trouble. One driver recently learned this the hard way when he tried to take his 30-foot vehicle over Engineer Pass, a rugged mountain road in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains and became stuck near the top of the pass. Blindly following his car GPS, the driver did not realize this high mountain pass (sitting at 12,800 feet) is a difficult, narrow road that is typically traversed by 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicles.  Engineer Pass is part of the scenic high country Alpine Loop which connects Silverton to Ouray and Lake City through the San Juan Mountains.

Moki Dugway (Utah) is not recommended for RV travel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That’s why it’s wise to travel with an RV-specific GPS to navigate safely based on your vehicle dimensions. You can input your vehicle’s height, length, and weight as well as fuel information like whether or not you’re carrying propane. This will not only help you avoid steep mountain roads but also low clearance bridges, bridge weight limits, and tunnels with propane restrictions.

Related Article: 5 Tips for Safe RV Travel

Remember, Safety First, and Happy RVing!

Worth Pondering…

The only aspect of our travels that is interesting to others is a disaster.

—Martha Gellman