Learning Curves: Selecting Campgrounds

The criteria for making campground choices is unique to our travel style and desired activities, but the need to locate campgrounds is universal.

Due to the extreme heat of the summer, we are sticking to weekend day trips to get a drive through view of some of our nearby campgrounds.

I am retired and have the benefit of free time to throughly research and screen numerous campgrounds. In his free time, Earl also spot checks areas online and brings up locations that I overlooked.

That means searching a 200 mile radius from Lily’s storage facility in north Georgia, roughly an easy half day drive. That area includes slices of four neighboring states: Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, along with the upper half of our home state Georgia.

Image: Target Base Camp Area

Target Base Camp Area: Continental United States view adapted from a free map provided at 50States.com

Before heading out on a day trip “inspection” we have selected locations from campground icons on Google Maps, mentions in camper’s blogs, Facebook group pages, camping apps, TripAdvisor comments and online reviews from various sources.

We also look over campsite photos and amenities, compare campground maps to Google earth views, check routes on Mapquest and route elevation apps, plus look over campground rules and regulations for even more information.

We want to select a few campgrounds to use over and over for short weekend camping trips, and as possible base camps for the first and last nights of any of our long trips. Through this research process a lot of area campgrounds have been screened and disregarded.

An upcoming post will feature a review of our first researched campground selection. We are looking forward to using our appealing basecamp during a trip that will include viewing the Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.

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Learning Curves 1 – 8

“Learning Curves” will feature experiences we have had with our 2010 Subaru 4 cylinder Outback and 2017 Vistabule Teardrop Trailer. We are not experts, just newbies, so be wary and use your own common sense, along with research, for information regarding the combination of tow vehicle and Teardrop Trailer you own.

#1. Mirrors

Initially, I did not expect that our Subaru Outback’s sideview mirrors would be adequate while towing. We even purchased a pair of clamp on mirror extensions.

Later, I located and followed an online guide for sideview mirror adjustment.

Car and Driver: How to adjust your mirrors to avoid blind spots

Once on the road with just the side mirror adjustments, the Vistabule’s width and window view through the body of the trailer provided good sight lines. So, the mirror extensions were not necessary.

#2. Tight Turns

The next worry was about making tight right turns at intersections.

Fortunately, at least in the area of St. Paul, MN around the Vistabule factory, street lanes and intersections were wide. I felt comfortable while driving toward the Interstate we needed. That gave me a feeling for how the teardrop trailer tracked the car during turns, and some confidence.

#3. Uphill climbs

With a 4 cylinder engine in our Subaru Outback, I also dreaded the idea of tugging the teardrop trailer uphill.

The first entrance ramp onto the Interstate was somewhat steep, but I accelerated on the approach and barely noticed the weight of the Vistabule while going up.

Otherwise, driving on most of the graded inclines of an Interstate was fine. Long steep uphill grades are noticeable in our 4 cylinder car, so I did slow down for those. I noticed that hilly areas use up more gas. I learned not to expect to maintain speed or to pass another vehicle while climbing.

While going up long grades, the aim was to avoid undue stress on the engine. I stayed right, listened to the engine, and watched the RPM gauge. Going down long grades, I slowed down, just touching the brake infrequently.

[I am still concerned about climbing mountain roads into campgrounds and do not know what extremes our car can handle while towing the Vistabule. I half joke that we will camp in the valleys and unhitch the car to explore the mountains.]

#4. Tight Spots

Another worry was about getting into tight spots and not being able to escape since I did not have practice backing up the Vistabule.

It was easy to see the Vistabule’s fender edges in each side view mirror when it was straight behind the car. Turning radius and length, not the width, were my major concerns in evaluation of needed space.

Advance precaution was quickly a normal habit; glancing over the available driving space or parking spaces before entering drive-ins, gas stations and shopping centers. For example, since we were on unknown roads, we topped up gas when the gauge indicated half a tank. That way, we were never hesitant to pass by a crowded gas station that would be difficult to maneuver.

#5. Backing Up

My first effort backing up against a corner curb of an empty parking lot went fairly well. The next three back-up moments involved camping spots and did not go well. I will admit I gave up after just a few tries.

The second spot was managed by looping around the road again and pulling though.

For the last two, I just backed the Vistabule angled into the general direction. Then we unhitched as quickly as possible and easily pushed the trailer into position.

Later we were told that being able to easily push the Vistabule was an attractive feature to the neighboring campers who watched us.

Have no shame. As soon as possible find an big empty space to practice backing.

livinlightly: How to backup a travel trailer like a pro

#6. Length

The main thing I had to keep in mind while cruising down roads was the additional 14 foot length of our trailer. The Vistabule was easy to drive at Internet speeds without undue strain to the car’s engine on flat surfaces, but always needed increased space for stopping distance.

Not only did I not want to stop fast, I also wanted to give people behind me plenty of notice by gradually slowing down before stopping. Even as we kept to the speed of the rest of the traffic in our lane, sometimes there were drivers around us who had no consideration of how trailers handle. Tailgaters and quick lane changers exist everywhere. It was always necessary, but especially anytime traffic started stacking up, to leave plenty of space for cars to move between us and the vehicle ahead.

Every glance in the mirrors reminded me when the trailer was with us. There was no problem making adjustments back and forth between driving with or without the trailer attached.

7. Wind Sheer

People asked me about it, but I had not thought of wind sheer against the side of the Vistabule while driving. The Vistabule’s size, height and shape is similar to our car and reacted the same to wind sheer.

(Naturally, Teardrop Trailer brands and models vary a great deal and each will handle differently. So, wind sheer is something that should be considered.)

During our trip there were two days of wind gusts in the 20 to 30 mph range. Gusts pushed us to a side twice, but not out of lane; easily controlled. In hilly areas where gusts seemed to come in and out of the shapes of the terrain, I did slow down as a precaution – much the same as I would normally do while driving the car on its own in touchy weather or road conditions.

8. Bounce

I also did not wonder if Vistabule would bounce while driving along, though I had though of swaying and fish tailing.

(Bounce and sway will differ between models of trailers, plus things like distribution of load weight and tire pressure may cause differences in handling. You need to know the limits and guidelines for the specific Teardrop Trailer you tow.)

While it may not be true of all, the Vistabule’s Teardrop Trailer has independent suspension. My description is that it tracked behind the tow vehicle without exaggerated motion.

Our Vistabule was a dream to tow.