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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ever "lost" your RV while boondocking?

Boondocking out in the middle of nowhere has definite attractions: Solitude. Quiet. Beautiful scenery. Lower costs. Of course there are a few caveats – you'll have to be a little more self-reliant than those who chose to park in a developed "RV resort." Sometimes the self-reliance skill-set includes a developed sense of direction.

Witness an experience that we had more than once when boondocking out in the Arizona desert. We were on BLM land and had the "perfect" spot – great views of the nearby hills and far enough away from most other folks to feel almost secluded. It was great – until the first time we came "home" after dark – and couldn't find the rig. There were multiple roads and trails in the area, and each one looked like the last one. And since there were other RVers dispersed through the area, and you know, it's like every fifth-wheel looks like every other fifth-wheel, at least in the dark, we got a bit spooked. After a lot of fussing about, we finally did find the rig again, with a sigh of relief.

We can only reason that had we been camping in a wooded area, the problem would likely have been compounded. So what's to do?

We can hear a lot of, "Use your GPS, silly!" coming out. And we do have a GPS. But depending on your GPS' abilities and mapping software, that may or may not be of help. For us, our GPS didn't display anything other than the main road running through the BLM area – trails and side roads, nada. While we could "spot" our camp site on the GPS, it would only give us a general idea of where we wanted to be, but no specifics on just how to get there.

Now there are some GPS units that have a "breadcrumb" system. When setting out from your site and heading back to the main road, spot your site, and turn on the "breadcrumb" system. This sets up a file in your GPS unit that takes into account distance, direction, and turns. When it's time to come back, call up your breadcrumb trail file and your GPS will give you a steer – even if it doesn't have a specific road in its permanent memory.

What if your GPS (like ours) doesn't have a breadcrumb option? There's a relatively inexpensive GPS device called the Breadcrumbs II Personal Locator. At less than $60, the device is designed with us 'Boomers' in mind who may be getting so debilitated that we need help finding our car in the parking lot. Which sad to say for us, may be a useful thing. Anyhow, it's a personal GPS device that "remembers" your steps (of up to three different locations) and gives you a compass like "steer" arrow to follow back. It's a small thing, hangs around your neck on a lanyard, and weighs a few ounces.

We talked to the folks who market the locator, and they tell us that it will also guide you if you're driving off the beaten path. Just set your 'come back to this" point, and head out. Recall your "home" point when you need to get back, and get a clear set of directions for getting there. Disclaimer time: We've not tried it, but we think it's worth a further investigation. Here's a link.

There are also some apps for smart-phones that claim to do a similar job. If you've tried any of these, please let us know. Write russ at rvtravel dot com.

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photos: "Hansel," public domain image; personal locator, 


  1. We have never lost the rig, but on two occasions we lost the RV park where we left it. How? On arrival day, take off and run a zillion errands, in a large town. The G
    pS IN the rig had gotten us to the park, ut the car GPS didn't know it's name. Needless to say we did find home and have been more aware ever since.

  2. Shucks, getting lost is half the fun. We ALWAYS get lost wherever we go, sometimes on purpose. It's amazing some of the places and things we have found trying to find our way back to the rig.

  3. Although we haven't had to use it this way, the "Find My iPhone" app on Apple devices could be a help if you have more than one. We have our phones, iPads and Macs linked in and, as long as they are connected to our MiFi mobile hotspot we can see where they are on a map.

    One other trick we learned is that our toad's GPS has a "Home" function. When we were in Q, we set that before leaving the rig and were able to know where it was.

  4. Free app for your cell phone can solve the problem. I like Carr Matey.

  5. I use 'Park and Go' on my Android phone. The two times I did use it (at malls around Atlanta), it worked great! I haven't had the opportunity to use it out in the 'wild'. But, as long as you can get a GPS signal on your cell, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't work.

  6. My GPS has the ability to store waypoints every few feet, which show as 'breadcrumbs' when you set your RV position as the destination. No need for other apps.

  7. "My Tracks", an exercise app on Android phones, worKS as a breadcrumb system too. The only expense is using a lot of battery - it is a GPS system.