Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Teton/Yellowstone RV Trip: Tips, Conclusions, and Brief Equipment Reviews

When I planned the trip, the thought was that Bowen would love it, and I'd be indifferent. The reality was that Bowen loved it, but I constantly chafed at driving a giant-ass RV around. The fact is, there were too many roads in the National Parks that aren't accessible if you're driving an RV. If I were to do it again, I'd take the advise that the owner of Utah RV Rental gave to me as he was driving us to the airport: rent a towing vehicle and a trailer. That way you can dump the trailer in the campground and drive around in the towing vehicle and still access all the nice roads. Apparently, it's even cheaper! The reason he didn't recommend it to first-time RV renters was that it makes backing the vehicle much harder.

But beyond that, the biggest problem is that the Tetons and Yellowstone are just way too crowded in the summer. I don't enjoy spending time in traffic jams to begin with, but having to do so on vacation makes things even worse. I've always visited those areas in September, and never realized how much worse it was in the summer. And the reality, of course, is that my many summers in the Alps have spoiled me: neither the Tetons nor Yellowstone look pretty enough to me to justify the effort, and I'd take a week in the Alps over 2 weeks in those parks any day. (As far as I'm concerned, Glacier National Park is pretty much the only park in the US where the natural beauty comes close to what you can get in the Alps)

Finally, getting a good experience RV camping is much the same as getting a good experience in any outdoor endeavor: let the weather drive where you go and what you do, and don't let any plans disrupt that principle. In the summer, your early morning hours are by far the most valuable hours in your day, and picking what you do then strongly determines how smoothly the rest of the days go. If that means you wake up early, do it!

Several pieces of equipment were standout useful during the trip:

  • External Battery Packs: The RAVPower 10400mAh paid for itself multiple times, keeping my phone charged while driving the extremely long distances. The 3200mAh bank was also useful because it incorporated a flashlight, which was useful for other members of the party.
  • Garmin Vivoactive: Look for a long term review to come in the future. But let's just say that I'm very satisfied with this device, and it's really as good as it gets.
  • Bestek Inverter: You'll typically drive a lot more than you'll run the generator on this trip, and this handy and inexpensive device was what allowed me to keep my CPAP battery charged and ready for those nights without power. A literal life-saver.
  • Nokia HERE: Google still doesn't acknowledge that there's a world in which you won't have internet access everywhere. Well, Nokia HERE allows offline navigation, search, and routing. It's also a ton less power hungry than Google Maps. The download interface for maps is well done, and reliable. This is the must-have app if you're going to visit National Parks or going outside cell signal range.
  • Retevis Walkie-Talkie: Since cell signal doesn't work, if you have a big party, you want to be able to use walkie-talkies to coordinate when people wander around. At $55 for 3, these proved reliable and useful. Well worth the money.
  • Sony SBH52: If you have to manage a toddler while potentially having to make or receive phone calls, a bluetooth headset is a must. This one is hard to beat because it's water resistant (even the charging port is sealed), is extremely loud, and even better, when phone calls need to be made, you can remove the ear-buds and hand it to other members of the party to treat as a normal phone. I spent many hours driving with the earbuds in my ears so I could hear the directions from Nokia HERE in my ear while the kids and adults in the RV were talking at the top of their voices.
I doubt if I'll do another trip like this any time soon, but if you're going to attempt one, I hope these tips help.

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