Vacation isn't just for vacation anymore.

Trip Wizard vs RoadTrippers

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Intro

Despite high gas prices and higher RV prices, this is a fantastic time to get into RVing. Jill and I frequently marvel at the vast array of mature technology at our disposal that collectively makes RV life significantly more accessible than it was even ten years ago – especially for rookies like us. I seriously wonder how in the world people learned everything they needed to know about RVing before the advent of YouTube. In the thirteen months since we ordered our Airstream, I bet I’ve watched hundreds of hours of educational RV content on YouTube. I thought my pace of consumption would slow after we took delivery, but it hasn’t because there’s so much to learn! And then I think about the navigation system in our truck that visually and audibly guides us from place to place – under Jill’s strict supervision, of course. Or our phones that offer functionality damn close to the tricorders of Star Trek. When we hike, all I have to do is consult the AllTrails app on my phone to ensure that we’re on the right path, like Captain Kirk finding his way on a foreign planet. And if we ever got hopelessly lost, satellite devices like Garmin’s InReach can bring us rescue from practically anywhere. Even mundane tasks like leveling our trailer is an absolute breeze because of Bluetooth devices like the LevelMate Pro. And when it comes to finding great RV parks, websites like RV Life Campgrounds and Campendium make it easy with their encyclopedic information, user reviews, and pictures. It’s really quite marvelous.

However – when it comes to road trip planning, I have to say, I’m a little disappointed in the available tools. In a world where I can literally – at any time – go to my phone or laptop and use Google Street View to load images of almost any intersection in the United States, I’m really quite shocked that the pinnacle of road trip planning software is Trip Wizard and RoadTrippers. These, as far as I can tell, are literally the only two applications in current existence that do a reasonably good job of helping you plan a road trip. And neither one is particularly impressive. I mean, they’re okay. On a scale from 1 (worst) to 5 (best), I’d give Trip Wizard a 3 and RoadTrippers a 2.5. They do basic stuff just fine, but as soon as you do anything marginally complex, annoying deficiencies become glaringly apparent. You can find destinations. You can create an itinerary. They will automatically route you from point A to point B. But add a gas stop on a long drive day and suddenly it’s not so easy to tell how many miles over how many hours you’ve committed to for a given day. If you override the automatically generated routes and then insert a new stop, you may find your customizations appended to the wrong destination, resulting in crazy, circuitous directions. And both applications suffer from usability flaws that I personally find quite confounding.

RV ownership has exploded in recent years. Apparently, 38% of the 40 million people who own a recreational vehicle in this country are Millennials. Surely there’s sufficient market demand to make the development of a better road trip planner economically attractive. Right?!

Or maybe it’s just me. Who knows.

The Short Version

If you’re not interested in all the blah, blah, blah below, click here to jump to the conclusion.

The Criteria

I should probably explain how I’m evaluating these applications before I go any further because there’s a reasonable chance that you don’t care about features I value and vise versa. For example, I’m not interested in the “RV safe” GPS navigation (not to be confused with the “RV safe” routing) offered by either app. I’m also not overly concerned with their mobile apps, since I do all my trip planning on a laptop, nor do I mind paying a little money for apps I consider useful. Everything important to me revolves around planning long RV trips that span multiple weeks. I want to easily locate RV parks, gas stations, and other points of interest, read reviews, look at pictures, and plan “RV safe” routes between destinations. I want to easily customize those routes whenever the underlying routing engine produces results I find subpar. I want to see how many miles I’m going to drive each day over how many hours. I want to easily plan gas stops every 250 or so miles. I want to see grand totals for the entire trip.

That’s it. That’s all I want.

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference.

All The Little Things

As mentioned above, both Trip Wizard and RoadTrippers do a reasonably decent job providing very simple road trip planning functionality. Where they fall short is everything beyond just the basics. I’ll elaborate.

Locating Destinations

Open either Trip Wizard or RoadTrippers and you’ll be presented with a map where you can set a starting point and add destinations. Right off the bat, it’s obvious that Trip Wizard caters to RVers a better than RoadTrippers. This isn’t a surprise, since until recently Trip Wizard was actually called “RV Trip Wizard”. I get the impression that RoadTrippers initially targeted non-RV travelers while Trip Wizard focused exclusively on the RV market, and now both are trying to broaden their horizons. As a result, while Trip Wizard provides fairly direct access to a large collection of RV oriented destinations – from RV Parks to popular truck stops – performing similar searches in RoadTrippers is a little convoluted by comparison. For example, there is no big obvious button to show RV parks or even hotels. Instead, you have to explicitly type “rv park” or “hotel” in a search field before it will show you categories for either one. This is one of many head-scratcher design decisions I found in RoadTrippers. Why are essentials like lodging and restaurants not displayed as prominently as “take a walk” and “exercise”? It’s just… odd.

RoadTrippers default search categories. No lodging?

Anyway, once you find the “secret” RV park category, RoadTrippers still falls short as it has far fewer reviews and pictures than Trip Wizard, making it much harder to assess whether a park is appealing or not. Not only does RoadTrippers have fewer reviews, they’re also lower in quality. Unlike in Trip Wizard – which harnesses reviews from its sister site RV Life Campgrounds – reviewers apparently aren’t prompted to answer questions like how was your site? How were the roads? How was the power/water/sewer hookups? Was there a lot of shade? How good was your cell connection?

Trip Wizard’s extensive RV park filters

Trip Wizard gets additional bonus points for its exceptionally helpful ‘driving radius’ feature, which draws a perimeter around a destination based on the number of hours per day you’d like to drive. With this on, you can easily select subsequent destinations that are within your personal driving limits. This may vary from trip to trip, so I’m grateful that Trip Wizard allows this to be configured on a per-trip basis. RoadTrippers has no comparable functionality.

And that’s pretty much the end of my analysis. As an RV traveler, there’s simply no compelling reason to use RoadTrippers over Trip Wizard to find destinations for your trips. But does it perhaps make sense to use RoadTrippers to plan your road trip after you’ve picked out your destinations using RV Life Campgrounds. Would that work? (Hint: no.)

Route & Trip Planning

Both applications allow you create an itinerary and automatically plot routes from destination to destination. Both will show you the mileage and travel time between each stop on your itinerary. Both claim to provide “RV safe” routes. Here again, both apps do a reasonably good job providing bare-bones essential functionality. But there’s no meat on those bones. Neither one provides a daily breakdown of miles and hours driven. This one omission annoys me more than any other. And there are plenty of others. I’ll focus my ire on Trip Wizard here. Let’s say I’m going to drive from Austin, Texas to Wichita, Kansas in a single day. That’s 546 miles, which means at least two gas stops and at least two or three pit stops. If I insert a gas stop 293 miles away from Austin in Ardmore, Oklahoma, I can no longer can see the total distance between Austin and Wichita. Instead, I get this:

How many miles is it from Austin to Wichita again? Well let’s see, 293 plus 253 is… why am I having to calculate this manually?! Add a couple more gas stops and a pit stop or two and suddenly making road trip plans has become an exercise is arithmetic. This flaw makes it impossible to look at a multi-week trip and, at a glance, determine whether you’re within your personal mileage and time targets. The more stops you add, the harder it is to glean this information.

I usually find myself poking RoadTrippers with a stick after moments of frustration with Trip Wizard. Unfortunately, its itinerary builder suffers from exactly the same limitations, once again providing the RV traveler no compelling reason to stray away from Trip Wizard. I have to give RoadTrippers some credit for one distinguishing feature. Their itinerary planner gives you the ability to toggle destinations on and off without deleting them, which can be handy for experimenting with stops you may or may not ultimately commit to. It’s nice, in a yawning sort of way.

Now let’s talk about routing! After all, both apps advertise “RV safe” routing. (At the time of this writing, RoadTrippers’ RV safe routing is in beta.) As you enter your itinerary, the routing engine will plot out directions which, presumably, avoids RV unfriendly roads. I haven’t scrutinized RoadTrippers abilities here, so I’ll restrict my commentary to Trip Wizard. I do sincerely appreciate this functionality. When I planned a trip through Utah, it clearly warned me to avoid the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, and on at least one other occasion it alerted me to a low bridge crossing. That said, I think it’s important to consider this automated guidance only as a first line of defense against driving misadventures. It is not foolproof, and I marvel at how many people admit online to blindly following these routes and expressing shock that they found themselves on a ill-advised road. In my opinion, an essential part of road trip planning software is the ability to override automated routes with your own preferences, as inspired by common sense, human intuition, and books like the Mountain Directory. Twice in the recent memory, Trip Wizard’s default routes would have sent out hundreds of miles our of our way. (Not exaggerating.) I doubt very much that RoadTrippers routing would prove any better. For this reason, it’s important that I be able to quickly and easily customize the default routes. So how does each application fare when it comes to overriding the default routing?

Go to Google Maps, enter a starting point and a destination, and then try to alter the route it provides by dragging the blue navigation line around. Easy and intuitive, right? That’s my expectation. Trip Wizard comes pretty close, although I’ve had some experiences where it refused to cooperate. For example, it would not let me take highway 215 around Las Vegas; it insisted that I take highway 15 though Las Vegas. I finally gave up trying. Aside from quirks like that, Trip Wizard’s interface is pretty close to Google Maps. You do have to explicitly click a button to enable route customizations, which is weird and silly, but obviously not a big deal. After that, you can customize to your heart’s content. However – the yummy vibes end there. Each modification is registered as a sequentially named “waypoint”, such as “waypoint 1”, “waypoint 2”, and so forth. These cannot be renamed to something more meaningful, which is annoying but only a minor inconvenience. What’s truly maddening is the unintelligent manner in which these waypoints are moved around if you deign to rearrange your itinerary. This behavior is a bit difficult to describe because it makes so little sense. Suffice it to say that if you have waypoints appended to destination, like in the screenshot below, then move that destination up or down on your itinerary – or add a new stop adjacent to the stop with waypoints – Trip Wizard will move those waypoints around in seemingly arbitrary ways. This results in the crazy, circuitous routes I hinted at earlier. It’ll have you driving hundreds of miles out of the way, back and forth between destinations, in completely nonsensical ways. You have no choice at this point but delete and reapply the waypoints. In other words, never add waypoints until your itinerary is unlikely to be changed any further.

Waypoints can’t be moved or renamed. Only deleted.

RoadTrippers route customization is, by these measures, worse. Drag and drop modification is enabled by default, but doesn’t work as well as it does in Trip Wizard. Instead of getting instant, predictable feedback as you drag the navigation guideline around, the RoadTrippers interface gives so little feedback that you essentially have to guess how the routing engine will respond to your input. Results are decidedly unpredictable, which means you have to repeatedly try again until you get the route that you want. Further, these waypoints – RoadTrippers uses the same term as Trip Wizard – are added to your itinerary as just another stop on your trip, rather than as an amendment to a route. This effectively makes your itinerary even more cumbersome than it is in Trip Wizard. This, finally, sends me sulking back to Trip Wizard – grateful that it exists, still wishing it was better.

RoadTripper waypoints are represented just like destinations.

In Conclusion

If you’re an RVer, Trip Wizard is the obvious choice. It’s easier to find RV parks and has better route customization abilities – which you’ll need whenever the automatic routing is poor or inefficient. While the application isn’t nearly as useful as it potentially could be, I still consider it an essential tool for planning RV trips. I’m always on the lookout for something else with more features and polish, but the reality is that nothing better currently exists. By comparison, RoadTrippers is less optimized for RV travel. It isn’t as easy to find RV parks or other common RV points of interest such as truck stops or Walmarts. There are far fewer relevant reviews and less information about RV parks. Manually overriding the automatically generated routes is clumsy and irksome. And while Trip Wizard’s web interface can safely be characterized as dated and bland, it’s still better considered and more functional that RoadTrippers’ cartoonish layout and jarring fly-out panels. If you’re looking for a tool to help plan long RV trips, I recommend giving Trip Wizard a shot.

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