February 13 marks two years of full time RV travel for us, and travel bloggers who fail to use anniversaries to reflect on their experiences will have their blogging licenses revoked. So here is our post.
Our second year of travels saw us really hitting our groove. We are quite comfortable with towing and parking our rig, and even the high mountains of Colorado proved to be no great challenge for us or our very sturdy truck. We can manage staying in everything from full hookup sites to dry camping for fairly extended periods of time. And that’s important because we have learned to travel at a pace we find comfortable and not rushed. There is no place that we visited where I thought, “I really wish we had booked a longer stay.” Our average stay times have extended considerably, and as a result we had plenty of time to see the sights as well as take care of life tasks like laundry, shopping, maintenance, and repairs, and also to blog, keep up with friends and family, and handle route planning — all without feeling completely overwhelmed and exhausted.
And since handling the challenges of travel has become more second-nature, we were able to enjoy spectacular scenery unlike anything we had seen before. The American West is chock full of sights that almost defy description, and we had trouble processing all the grandeur even seeing it with our own eyes. Our 2019 Year in Review covers a few of the many highlights of our travels, which were concentrated in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Our friends over at Chapter 3 Travels put up an excellent post a few months ago that nicely explains many things about full time RV travel that are persistently aggravating. We agree completely with everything they said. We couldn’t express it any better than they have, so instead of rehashing the downsides we’ll tell you what we decided to do about it.
Planning on Changes
Astute readers may have noticed a certain fawning fascination in my post about St. George Island along with references to our winter plans. And in our most recent post about our stay Tampa Bay I mentioned tackling administrative tasks that required the services of a notary. Did you miss those subtle hints, or even — gasp! — not read the last few posts? Well, then follow the links and read the posts.
For those who did their homework, I am pleased to share that last week we closed on the purchase of a vacant lot on St. George Island, and our plan for next winter is to return to the island and build a house. While we made a few touristy visits during our two-week stay in January, we were mostly focused on house hunting and evaluating whether the Forgotten Coast is a place we would like to live.
We never intended to spend the rest of our lives continuously traveling, and part of the purpose of the journey we made so far was to search for a place to call home, even if only seasonally. We knew there was no reason to return to the crowded, expensive area of South Florida where we lived when we were working but we also had no idea where we might land. Our travels around the country have introduced us to many intriguing places, but in the end our love for the beach and nature steered us back to Florida. We closely evaluated many spots in the state for a potential home, and most of our Florida travels this winter were planned around searching for real estate. We knew coming in to the state that St. George was one of our top contenders, and our return visit sealed the deal.
After spending long stretches of time in remote and rural areas, we have identified our primary pain points. First and foremost is crappy or nonexistent cell service. We were happy to confirm that there is a solid LTE signal on AT&T everywhere on St. George Island except for an isolated stretch of the state park between the park entrance and the campground. We also confirmed that the local pizza place is good, because pizza is just about the only food we love but we don’t make at home. Another big issue is having access to a decent grocery store, so we visited both of the groceries on St. George, one in Eastpoint, and one in Apalachicola to evaluate their offerings. For access to other normal life necessities we checked out the hardware store and the CVS. All that fake shopping (and real pizza eating) convinced us of two things: we can get most things we need in the immediate area, and the people who work in the local stores are exceptionally friendly. For what we can’t get locally, we can drive to Panama City or Tallahassee or just order from Amazon (with four-day delivery at best). We also visited the local nonprofits with a specific eye toward finding volunteer opportunities in the winters, which is when we intend to be in the area. While there are trade-offs in choosing to be in a relatively rural area, the proximity to an outstanding beach, the dark skies, the pristine environment, and the true island atmosphere all won us over.
So are we planning to stop RVing? Nope. We’ve been to many incredible places in North America, but there are so many still on the “to be visited” list, and we think our Airstream is the perfect way to explore those places. This year’s summer visit to the Midwest will allow us to see a part of the country that is completely new to us, but we also feel called to see many more spots. Our swing through California in late fall 2018 was too late in the season for us to visit the Sierras, so iconic parks like Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks remain on our agenda for future travels. The Cascades are gorgeous and deserving of a summer sojourn. We have yet to cross an international border with the rig, but Canada is calling. Alaska is a bucket list destination. We’ve talked about spending a summer in New England since before we purchased the Airstream. The list goes on.
We are definitely not ready to give up this sort of thing:
However, with a few notable exceptions — like Big Bend NP, Death Valley NP, and Organ Pipe Cactus NM — the places we have loved most in our travels and the places we most want to explore in the future are best suited for spring/summer/fall visits. There’s a reason huge swarms of RVers descend like locusts on Arizona and Florida in the winters. Those are the places where the weather is suitable for RV living — actually any kind of living — in the winter. We really like being in Florida for the winter, since we love the beach, have many friends and family in the state, and generally prefer foliage and humidity over a desert environment. But I absolutely do not want to deal with the ever-more-challenging task of finding camping spots in our great state. Getting up at 4 a.m. last winter in California and Arizona to make our Florida reservations (because the reservations open up daily at 5 a.m. Pacific / 8 a.m. Eastern exactly 11 months in advance, and many places I had to try for a week straight to get reservations) meant we made early starts to our days, but it was mostly an exercise in frustration.
Many people solve the problem of winter reservations by becoming camp hosts at a park in Florida, Arizona, or South Texas, which is something we considered as well. But we want to have a home base that is ours, which means a place where we can put our own artwork, our small library, and other personal items. We have a very small (5X5) storage unit in Florida, and while we are pretty minimalist after living in a tiny aluminum tube for two years, I really want to see and touch those stored items again. I couldn’t live without my Kindle, but there is nothing like a real book in your hands, especially a well-loved one.
So our plan is to use the house on St. George as a winter base, and continue exploring our wide world with the Airstream and by other means of transport as well. We’re already thinking about how to configure our driveway to include a pull-through RV spot. It’s been a whirlwind of activity the past few weeks: negotiating the contract on the lot, completing due diligence, closing, investigating insurance options, hiring an architect, working on plans, hiring a builder. The process ahead is daunting but also exciting.