By Steve Savage, Mobility RV Service
One of the things that drives me nuts is lack of transparency — and when it comes to searching for a campground that problem really hits home.
My wife and I spend literally hours trying to choose campgrounds, because we’ve been slammed often enough to know what you see on the Internet is not always what you get. Now you might be thinking, “No problem, just use TripAdvisor, Good Sam, or something similar.” Again, not as easy to do as it sounds.
If you go to TripAdvisor you will find a great many campgrounds with pretty good ratings and we do read the reviews posted by others. The first problem with reviews is they’re often outdated. The second problem is even when a campground gets good reviews it does not mean you are going to get a good campsite.
Take, for example, a recent experience we had with a campground. We reserved a spot about two months in advance, supplying the length of our fifth wheel at the time we reserved. We actually listed our fifth wheel as two feet longer than it is because in our experience many campgrounds will put shorter models in the smallest possible spaces. Arriving at the campground, the space was short. It was so short we could not park our dually in the space unless we parked at an angle, and even then could just barely get its butt out of the road.
Now we were only staying for three days, so we didn’t think that was any big deal. We really are not super-fussy about campsites. So far, so good. Then about midnight, our camper was lit up like an airport runway while the work camper, seated in a service cart sporting four halogens, provided light for a young couple to set up their tent. The space they were wedged into was so small that the corner of their tent actually crossed over into our space. It was as though we had a couple camped under our awning. Yeah, I know — RV sites and tent sites should be separate, but some campground owners will do anything for a buck!
I don’t want to go into length about this other than to note the following: If we had known ahead of time the campground was going to put a tent onto part of our site, we would not have stayed in that campground. The kicker, of course, is the way most campgrounds operate — you never know ahead of time which space you will be in, and if they have a “no cancellation” policy or you are traveling in “high season,” you are out of luck.
So here is what I would propose: Many state parks we frequent have pictures of the exact site you are reserving on the Internet. You pick the site, you pay your money, and you have at least a fair idea of the site you will be camped in, weeks or months before arriving. They also have maps that provide an idea of the campground layout rather than a load of PR pictures showing fancy motorhomes and conversion buses. I want commercial campgrounds to do the same.
For campgrounds owners who say it would be too expensive, increase your rates a dollar a night. The increase in occupancy will more than make up for the cost and I promise you, if you will do that, I will actively avoid the campgrounds that don’t. I bet other RVers will, too!
To cut to the chase, when I go to a website I want to see a readable map with spaces labeled. When I reserve a spot, I want to know what spot I just reserved. A generic description is not adequate. If I am paying as much as everyone else, I don’t want us or anyone else to be camped next to a row of dumpsters or the storage building. It is about time we RVers put an end to the “bait and switch” which seems to be endemic among some campground owners. There are some really great campgrounds out there that deserve our business. But some “campgrounds” are little more than glorified parking lots and some are simply shanty towns that do little other than serve as an embarrassment to the campground industry.
[Editor: For pictures, videos and reviews of more than 1,800 campgrounds submitted by real campers, with more being posted frequently, go to CampgroundViews.com.]