It has been a great joy the last several years (2018 here, 2019 here) to finish off the year by putting together a random assortment of facts and figures to help tell the story of our year. In 2020, with such a truncated travel season, it doesn’t seem worthwhile to put together numbers like “miles towed” — in part because that exercise would just make me sad. And our typical financial review doesn’t make much sense either. I encourage people to check out earlier financial posts (2018 here, 2019 here) for detailed breakdowns of our costs of full-time RVing in normal times. But since I use the blog mostly to document our own experiences, I did want to reflect a bit on our year.
The year started out auspiciously, with us returning to Florida just in time to ring in the new year in the home state we had left nearly two years earlier. The winter RV season allowed us to meet up with fellow RVers Robin and Jay during our visit to Pensacola, Laurel and Eric in Eastpoint, and Laura and Kevin in Tampa. We enjoyed quality time with Florida-based family and friends in Tampa, Sebring, and Jupiter. In between all the socializing, we explored — and loved — many previously-ignored attractions of our home state.
Then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic exploded and the world changed. At the end of March we had to cancel our hard-won reservations in sought-after parks like Anastasia State Park and Fort Clinch State Park, as we scrambled for a place to hunker down. Fear of “outsiders” gripped many communities, and Florida responded by setting up Highway Patrol checkpoints at the state border and banning vacation rentals. We headed to tiny Franklin County in the Florida panhandle because (1) that kept us within Florida, our official state of residency, and (2) we owned property in the county, albeit a vacant lot. As the pandemic raged in various places around the country, and different states and localities had totally different regulatory responses, we weren’t willing to roll the dice on whether places on our planned itinerary might shut down. We made the hard decision to stay in Florida for the summer, abandoning plans to travel to the Midwest and Great Lakes and knowing that we would be in for a rough time in Florida. We suffered through a long, hot, rainy, terrible summer; knowing about the suck in advance and actually experiencing the suck are two different things. Things started looking up when we moved into a rental house on St. George Island for the last three months of the year, putting us close to the beach and the ongoing build of our new home while lovely temperatures actually made outdoor activities enjoyable. Small, nontraditional holiday celebrations rounded out this unpleasant year.
Some random thoughts about the year, in lieu of interesting facts and figures:
- Only complete fools choose to spend the summer in Florida in an RV.
- It’s very 2020 that this year the blog featured unprecedented coverage of bathroom fixtures, between our RV toilet replacement in March and our efforts to pick out items for a brand new house. “Year of the Toilet” sounds about right.
- While there is certainly variation, staying in a private RV park costs $$$. Our monthly rate was around $1,100 once all the taxes were included, so we were well above our 2019 average of $27.12 per night. And that was before factoring in our separately-metered electric bill, which reached $150 per month thanks to running our A/C nearly continuously (at least until it croaked on us). Our preferred RVing strategy of staying in public campgrounds (national, state, county, and city) not only gives us a better experience but also keeps costs down. Unfortunately, while private RV parks seem to be expanding to meet increasing demand from the millions of new RVers, very few new public campgrounds get built so competition for those prime, affordable spots is only going to become more fierce.
- When we lived in Palm Beach Gardens and then in Miami we did our regular grocery shopping at Whole Foods, snarkily referred to in some quarters as “Whole Paycheck.” When we hit the road I was surprised that our grocery costs stayed the same as we switched to shopping at whatever was available in the towns we visited, but after spending most of the year in one place I’ve concluded that’s because rural grocery costs are quite high. We live in one of the few regions of Florida without a Publix on every corner, and the lack of competition is apparent. Just buying non-organic but slightly exotic products like sesame oil and ricotta cheese, plus purchasing as many fresh vegetables as possible (with very limited organic selection), leaves us with a weekly grocery bill that on average is higher than what we spent at Whole Foods on 100% organic products. This is pretty consistent with our experience shopping in the many rural areas we visited in two years of continuous travel.
- I think full-time RVers were particularly well suited to handling the mental aspects of the pandemic. We had already figured out how to spend nearly all our time with each other, and to deal with the constant uncertainty of life on the road. But despite coming in with good coping skills, we still struggled this summer. I have keen empathy for the millions and millions of people who have dealt with grief, depression, anxiety, interpersonal conflict, and other mental health challenges this year because of this terrible pandemic.
Despite all the challenges we endured this year, we also know that we are luckier than many. None of our friends or loved ones contracted Covid (at least as far as we know). We are able to pay our bills the same as usual. The ACA is still the law of the land, allowing us to buy our health insurance for 2021 at a reasonable price with the premium tax credit. Spending most of the year in the location of our future home base gave us the opportunity to meet our future neighbors and attend some outdoor events like the annual Paint Out plein-air festival. We also explored many local natural areas by foot and by kayak, and felt perfectly safe doing so because it was rare to encounter other people. Having friends Eric and Laurel nearby for kayaking and outdoor happy hours gave us a much-needed dose of human contact.
We have made quite a bit of progress on our house build, and being on site helped us make better decisions in the planning phases. We have even been able to participate in some parts of the build, which has been rewarding and a welcome break from the tedium of pandemic times. We hope work will be substantially complete within the next 6-8 weeks. Even better, after spending most of the year in the area we are even happier with our choice to settle here. The white sand beaches, friendly island vibe, outstanding environmental resources, and casual atmosphere are all just as appealing as when we initially purchased our lot.
Plans for 2021?
So what does our travel agenda contain for 2021? Who knows!?!? We don’t intend to travel again until we receive our vaccinations and attractions like museums, art galleries, music performances, and restaurants resume normal operations. Given that the good RV spots fill up 6-12 months in advance, with no reservations in the books right now we may very well be spending the entire year off the road. On the other hand, if recovery goes smoothly next spring we may be able to snag some interesting visits through cancellations. It’s just too early to predict. Our focus right now is to finish the house, and once we receive vaccines we will use our newfound-freedom to make long-overdue visits with family. At a minimum, 2021 offers glimmers of hope on the horizon.