Navigating the Open Road: A Guide to Navigation Apps for RVers

Making Your Way Through the Great Unknown

The freedom to pick up and go wherever your heart desires also comes with the not-so-fun task of figuring out how to get there. Thankfully, technology has made trip planning and navigation easier than ever with handy apps like Google Maps and Waze. These magical marvels of the modern world have got your back when it comes to avoiding traffic jams, dodging danger, and finding campsites and attractions along the way.

But how exactly do they work their navigational wizardry? And what key features help RVers navigate the great unknown with confidence? Let me explain…

Google Maps: The OG Navigation App

As the grandaddy of digital mapping, Google Maps needs no introduction. Chances are you already have this app on your phone and use it daily to get around. But you may not know just how powerful it is for planning RV routes.

Here are some key features that make Google Maps a road trip game-changer:

Avoid Low Clearances and Hazards

Nothing strikes fear into an RVer’s heart like a low bridge or narrow tunnel you can’t squeeze through. Thankfully, Google Maps lets you select “avoid tolls, highways, ferries” and more. This prevents dangerous misrouting that could damage your rig or send you down treacherous dirt roads.

I’ll never forget the time Google wanted me to take a “short cut” under a crumbling 10-foot railroad bridge. Yikes! Now I always make sure height limits and road conditions are selected before planning a route. Peace of mind is just a few taps away.

Find Campsites and POIs

Google Maps makes it easy to search for campgrounds, dump stations, attractions and other points of interest (POIs) along your route. No more aimless wandering around looking for a place to park your rig at night!

Pro tip: Make sure to read campground reviews before booking to avoid ending up at a dump (pun intended) instead of a peaceful oasis. I once rolled into a site that looked nice online but was basically a crowded parking lot. Not exactly the relaxing evening I had envisioned. Do your homework and your away-from-home bed will be happy!

Share Live Location

Heading to a festival or traveling in a convoy? Google Maps lets you share your live location with friends/family so they can track your progress. I used this when my parents followed me to a bluegrass festival in their RV. It gave them peace of mind that I hadn’t careened into a ditch somewhere!

Bonus: Your location won’t drain your phone’s battery since it only updates periodically in the background. This is clutch for off-grid campers like me. Gotta conserve that juice when you rely on solar power!

Download Maps for Offline Use

If your campsite doesn’t have data coverage, no worries – you can download offline maps ahead of time so Google Maps still works. Just make sure to cache the maps while you have internet access.

This feature has been a real lifesaver for me. Last summer I spent 2 weeks boondocking in the Utah desert. Thanks to my downloaded maps, I could still navigate to the nearest grocery store when my water tanks ran low. Take that, spotty cell service!

View Charging Stations

Electric vehicle owners rejoice! Google Maps lets you search for nearby EV charging stations, complete with useful details like charging speeds, connectors, pricing etc. No more range anxiety while road tripping in your e-RV or towing your EV car.

I don’t have an electric vehicle (yet!), but several of my nomad friends rely on this feature to keep their e-RVs powered up on long journeys. The future is here and Google Maps is keeping up!

Waze: Crowdsourced Navigation

Founded in Israel, the community-based app Waze took North America by storm when Google acquired it in 2013. It has some similarities to Google Maps, but the real-time, crowdsourced approach makes it stand out.

Here are some of the top features Waze offers:

Real-Time Traffic Updates

By far Waze’s biggest claim to fame is its traffic data. The app taps into all Waze users on the road to report accidents, closures, speed traps and more. It then automatically routes you around problems, saving huge headaches (and avoiding literal headaches from smashing your head on the steering wheel while stuck in gridlock).

On my very first RV trip, Waze helped me skirt around a nasty multi-car pile-up that had traffic at a standstill. I breezed down peaceful side streets while other poor suckers idled on the highway for hours. After that, I was sold on Waze for life!

Offline Maps

Just like Google Maps, Waze lets you download maps for when you’re off the grid. No cell service? No problem. As long as you cache the maps ahead of time, you’re good to go.

This feature really saved my bacon when I was boondocking in New Mexico last fall. My route back to civilization took me through some very remote areas with zero bars. But thanks to my Waze offline maps, I still navigated the dusty backroads just fine. Three cheers for technology!

Share ETA

Heading to meet friends and want them to know when you’ll arrive? Share your ETA through Waze and they can track your progress as you drive. No more aimless waiting in parking lots for each other!

I used this when convoying to a vintage trailer rally and it worked great. My little caravan of friends could see when I stopped for snacks so they knew not to panic that I’d broken down somewhere. The constant connection kept our pack together.

Snarky Voice Directions

Let’s admit it – driving gets boring, especially on long stretches of open highway. Waze tries to make navigation more entertaining with cheeky voice guidance like “Continue singing your heart out!” when you veer off course.

Do the quips get old after a few thousand miles? Sure, a little. But I’ll take corny jokes over sterile turn-by-turn commands any day. It’s the little things that keep me smiling behind the wheel after hundreds of miles Rolling down the road, you need any advantage to stay alert and cheerful. So bring on the bad voiceover jokes – I’ll take the comic relief on my cross-country treks.

Gas Prices at Stations

With gas prices fluctuating wildly, who couldn’t use help finding the cheapest fuel? Waze has you covered by showing gas prices at stations along your route. No more guessing if the next exit might save you a few cents per gallon.

On a recent trip, I saw a simple notification that the next fuel stop was $0.40 more per gallon. I decided to drive 10 more miles to the next cheaper station and saved almost $15 filling up my giant RV tank. That paid for a nice bottle of wine that night! Little smart optimizations add up.

Choosing the Best Navigation App for You

When it comes to choosing the best navigation app for your RVing needs, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Here are a few key factors to consider:

  • Data usage: Waze requires a constant data connection to tap into real-time crowdsourced updates. Google Maps lets you pre-download offline maps.
  • RV-friendly routing: Both allow you to avoid narrow roads, low clearances and other hazards. But Waze seems smarter about not directing RVers down clearly truck-unfriendly roads in the first place.
  • Convoy support: Waze makes it easier to coordinate meet-ups and share ETAs with traveling companions.
  • Personal preference: Google Maps has a cleaner design. Waze has more real-time alerts and a quirkier interface. Pick what suits your tastes.

My advice? Use both! I run Waze in the foreground for traffic-aware routing and ETA sharing. But I still download Google Maps as a backup for offline use in dead zones. Together this dynamic duo has guided me to amazing adventures across the country without a hitch.

Cruising Confidently with Navigation Apps

At the end of the day, navigation apps like Google Maps and Waze put the power of high-tech mapping and real-time crowdsourced data right on your phone. For RVers exploring the open road, they are total game changers.

So embrace technology and cruise confidently on your next journey, knowing you have a digital copilot looking out for you.

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