On October 1st, we were in Michigan preparing to head south after spending a phenomenal Summer along the Great Lakes.
By November 1st, we were in North Carolina discussing whether we should call it quits and settle down.
Our trip between Michigan and North Carolina was full of long days, short stays, heavy traffic, irritating campgrounds, and all the other things that have been getting on our nerves. By the time we arrived in Asheville, we found ourselves easily frustrated and pretty well drained. Not surprisingly, I spent a lot of that week writing my recent article about travel burnout. That issue is real, and we were in the midst of a serious bout of it.
What’s more, we were in the early planning stages of a huge trip. For many RVers, it is THE bucket list journey. It will put all our prior mileage to shame and require us to travel in a completely different manner than usual.
Come Summer of 2020, we’re heading to Alaska!!
Super exciting, right? Of course! Who wouldn’t be thrilled to experience the midnight sun, watch glaciers calve, and snuggle with grizzlies??
But, if you haven’t consulted a map recently, you might have forgotten just what all this means.
Why you gotta be all the way up there?? Jeez….
And Alaska is far no matter where you start, but we’d be beginning the year in Florida, as far away as one can possibly get. And, as we know from prior experience, it’s not just a question of miles. Springtime travel means avoiding shifting tornado alleys in the south, crazy springtime winds in the west, snowfall in the mountains, and winters that just won’t end up north. And, as we learned on our trip from hell last Spring, when you’re tackling big mileage over short time periods, stuff breaks and things go wrong much more frequently.
Beyond all that, we knew our travels in Alaska would be very different. Not only will we be caravanning with friends, but, for the most part, we’ll be traveling without reservations. (I’ll have lots more to share about Alaska in future posts.)
So, as I sat in North Carolina, working on my planning calendar, trying to figure out how we were going to get from Florida to Alaska, I started weighing options. On the one hand, we could head west before heading north which would allow us to visit several places that are still on our must-see list – places like Big Bend, McDonald Observatory, Carlsbad Caverns, and Arches National Park.
On the other, we could stop acting like morons and make good decisions for once in our idiot lives.
I mean, really? How hard is this???
It’s not hard.
Quantum physics is hard. Latin is hard. Understanding why Kylie Jenner is a billionaire is hard.
Not driving around like a doofus when you’re already burned out from driving around like a doofus is not hard.
So, after an hour or two of discussion, I joyfully hit the “delete’ button on all the trip planning I had done and started over with a blank piece of paper.
And on that gloriously blank piece of paper, I wrote: “Austin.”
Why Austin? Because:
… and yes, it’s centrally located, and yes, it’s got nice Spring weather, and yes, there’s lots to see and do, and yes, we’ve enjoyed our prior visits immensely…
But, mostly, it was about the tacos.
So, we decided that instead of driving all over hell and creation in the lower 48 before really driving all over hell and creation in the upper 49th, we would just hang out in Austin, wait out the bad weather, and eat tacos. Genius!!
But then I started thinking about our camping options in Austin and quickly realized it would be more of the same. Another crowded campground, another overpriced parking space, more watching this tank and that tank and some other tank while working on the never ending RV maintenance list.
That didn’t sound very appealing at all. We needed a break. A real break. From all of it.
So, after careful consideration, we decided that’s exactly what we’d do. After more than 3.5 years living in this tin can 24/7/365, we’re taking a break from RV living entirely. We’re putting Barney in storage and setting up in an Air BnB. Turns out, for not much more than we’d usually spend on camping fees and gas, we can rent a small, fully furnished house right in Austin.
It’ll have real walls, y’all!!!!
The only downside is we’ve only got two months to work with. We would have preferred three, but the window for Alaska is short, so we need to start making our way toward the Canadian border in May.
In the meantime, once we move into the rental, we’re looking forward to working on some projects we haven’t had time to work on, getting back on a regular exercise schedule (to offset the taco issue), planning this crazy Alaska trip, and being completely anti-social. We feel very fortunate to know very few people in Austin and we’re going to work hard to keep it that way. Haha. Just kidding. Actually, not really. After spending the last several months catching up with everyone on the East Coast, we’re all socialized out. Once we get to Austin, we’re making like monks and taking a vow of silence.
How will this all go in reality? We have no idea. But as soon as we figure it out, you’ll be the first to know.
As soon as we booked the Air BnB, it felt like a huge weight came off. And soon after that, we headed to an even more therapeutic place – one of the best campgrounds we’ve ever visited.
Gunter Hill Campground is the campground by which all others should be measured. This Army Corps of Engineers park is located just outside Montgomery, Alabama, it offers full hook ups, and the sites may as well come with a unicorn butler who cooks you breakfast and rubs your feet.
Look at this!!!!!!
Sadly, we only had two nights here, but any time at all in this beautiful land of enchantment is valuable.
Grayton Beach State Park
The magic continued at our next stop, Grayton Beach State Park, located on Florida’s gulf coast, just east of Pensacola.
Santa Rosa Beach is stunningly beautiful – powdery white sand, perfectly clear turquoise waters, protected dunes…. Dreamy stuff any time of day:
Grayton’s campground, which is about a 10 minute walk from the beach, is even better. There’s a loop of full hook ups and a loop of partials, the former being a bit more open while the latter feels more natural. We snagged a site in the full hook up section and were in heaven.
We loved it so much that when the opportunity presented itself to extend our stay by moving to a different site, we jumped at it.
All told, we spent 12 nights at the park, wandering down to the beach to catch midday and sunset views…
taking the dog for leisurely hikes along the park’s pretty trails,
and enjoying the beautiful views everywhere between…
In a state full of superb state parks, Grayton remains one of our favorites.
After pit-stopping at Suwannee River State Park, we made our way to St. Augustine, visiting Kevin’s family for the holidays and taking in all that St. Augustine has to offer – which is a lot.
In addition to burying them in Amazon packages, bringing over tons of laundry for their “adult sized” washing machine and dryer, and making use of their garage and tools for various projects, we spent Thanksgiving in the sunshine, let Thor get some extra attention from the grands, and checked out several local businesses.
And just prior to Christmas, we all headed downtown to take in the “Nights of Lights” festival via the city’s trolley. The festival – wherein local businesses, government buildings, and parks in the historic downtown are decorated in beautiful white lights, starts in late November and goes through early February. While St. Augustine is always an appealing city to visit, winter is an especially beautiful time.
We had a great time visiting with Kevin’s family. It was nice to just be able to hang out and spend quality time together. We visited with some RVer friends as well, but I’ll add that to the next post since this one is getting rather wordy already.
Coming up, we head inland to hike, kayak, and swim in some of Florida’s lesser known but gorgeous state parks, we head out to the coast to visit the incomparable Kennedy Space Center, and we bid a fond farewell to an old friend – because it turns out nothing lasts forever, not even a trusty Xterra.
Where we stayed:
Gunter Hill Campground, Montgomery, Alabama
Grayton Beach State Park, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida (2017 Review)
Suwannee River State Park, Live Oak, Florida (2017 Review)
Stagecoach RV Park, St. Augustine, Florida
“ Quantum physics is hard. Latin is hard. Understanding why Kylie Jenner is a billionaire is hard.”
26 years and your humor still makes me burst out laughing. Come to California already so we can laugh in the same damn room for Christ sake!
26 years. Oooof.
But yes! We’ve spent all our California time in the south. We need to come up north… It’s a big state!! But we’ll get there (hopefully at the end of this year) and I can’t wait to catch up with you!
I am so excited for you and your Alaska adventure. We started in FL when we went, but took 2 1/2 months to get there (we took the really long way, via NOLA and Death Valley). A mental and physical break in Austin will sounds genius. I think it will help you decide the future more easily. Continue the same way or find a home base, traveling when you want. Is 3/4 timers a thing?
Wow you found some great campgrounds on the way south!! Thor sure seemed to enjoy his time with the grands! And WHY have I never put bacon in deviled eggs?!?!?!?!
We are definitely thinking of Austin as a trial run for settling down. Will we love it? Will we be crawling up the walls after 3 weeks in the same place? We just don’t know. But this will be a good way to find out whether we are really ready to settle down into part time travel. Plus, Austin could be a long term landing zone for us, so this will be a great way for us to learn more about the city.
It is funny how many people I’ve now heard about who are going/or have gone to Alaska from Florida. There’s got to be an easier way to do this!! Well, rest assured, we’ll be consulting your blog for ideas. Your posts were one of the reasons we decided we wanted to go!
Good plan. Be sure to add Laird Hot Springs on the way to Alaska. It is still a favorite memory from our 2003 visit. Wow! Time flies!
Yes! I have heard nothing but fantastic things about that place. We’ll be stopping there for sure!
I am so glad you made the (obviously correct in retrospect) decision to slow down and take a few months in Austin. It can be hard to change direction when your mind has already established different plans, but in this case it is clearly the right choice. I hope it restores and recharges you for the big summer adventure ahead.
We focus our travel planning on trying to stay almost exclusively in the sorts of campgrounds you highlighted in this post, with excellent sites and scenery, and making very long stays in those lovely places has helped keep us sane amidst the stress of travel. But as you know, trying to snag those sites can come with its own stress.
I am very excited to follow your Alaska adventures, since as you know that destination is on our bucket list as well!
If we could consistently stay at places like Gunter Hill and Grayton for 2 weeks at a time, I think we would feel completely different about all of this. It is crazy what an impact these parks have on our overall mood. But they are our de facto “homes” for whatever time we’re parked there and having crappy neighbors and terrible views sucks whether you’re in a S&B or an RV. I certainly don’t mind putting in the time to plan this stuff and get reservations beforehand, but it’s just gotten so stressful and frustrating – as your most recent post so perfectly describes. On the other hand, when it works out, it really works out. You guys always have fabulous sites!
Looking forward to your Alaska posts, it’s on our maybe list so I will be interested in your take on the trip. Remember we are in Moab the month of May if you happen to wonder by on your way Znorth.
We were planning on visiting Moab in May, but couldn’t even get a site. The week we were looking at is the same as some ATV event and everything was booked up solid. But we may still pass through. I’ll let you know when I figure out the plan.
Alaska 2020!! Wooooo! We are excited about that, too!! ????. Glad you had some downtime and a great holiday season! I love the lights in St Augustine and Grayton really is stunningly beautiful. Hi, Penny and Charles! Can’t wait to see your next post. Oh and I took 6 years of Latin and while it isn’t easy, it is fair easier to understand than why Kylie Jenner is a billionaire!! What the heck???
Alaska is gonna be great – I still think it’s funny that we are meeting up as far away as humanly possible! It’s gonna be fun! And you guys would really love St. Augustine, especially in winter. The lights are beautiful and the whole downtown area is very pretty and just a fun spot. Plus – they have an awesome martini bar!
I love how you just say it as it is no rose color glasses with you! Love the honesty! We’ll be in Austin area in March ,we’ll have to try out the tacos!!!
Thanks! I appreciate when people are honest and straightforward with me and I try to do the same. When you’re in Austin, don’t miss Valentina’s Tex Mex BBQ. It’s a BBQ place that offers their dishes on bread or tortillas. It’s life changing stuff! Promise!
Sounds like a GREAT decision to take a break for a couple of months to rest and regroup. And in Austin! As you know, two months is going to fly by. So get serious about that taco project right away. And enjoy the luxury of walking more than 10 steps from the kitchen to the bedroom, no close neighbors, unlimited hot showers, and all those good things!
Thanks for the tip on Gunter Hill campground. It looks like you had a perfect stay at Grayton Beach and also good times in St. Augustine with family for the holidays. So excited that you’re going to Alaska and that we get to follow your adventures!
I’m wondering if I might get lost in this house. Sure, it’s small, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had to travel SO FAR from one room to another!! I also wonder how often I’m gonna lose things. I lose stuff in the rig all the time and it’s only 250 square feet. In a house?? Jeez. I’ll never find my sunglasses again! But yes – unlimited hot showers and not having neighbors parked 10 feet from us is gonna be DREAMY!!!!
I got a little jealous about Alaska 2020, which I always do when the “A” word comes up. Then I was like, “Who am I kidding? Driving to California and back to NM just wore me out.” Once a doofus, always a doofus – it’s a hard habit to break. Glad you guys are taking a taco break in Austin and doing it the smart way!
Yeah, after all this burnout and then taking a real break, we may get halfway through Wyoming and be like “Yeah, screw this…” Haha. Could go either way! We’ll see. But there’s no way we could do Alaska without taking some sort of significant break, so it’s worth a shot.
Alaska! Yea – we really enjoyed the sites and sea food! The distances are indeed vast and it can rain … a lot! we had 52 consecutive days with some rain in them. But I’d do it again! The window for visiting is small, reservations may be required at the popular areas.
Enjoy the tacos!
Yes! The one thing I have gone without all these years, that I will be buying before Alaska is a rain jacket. We know that is just a fact of life up there. It’s fine though. From what we’ve seen, it’s always beautiful – even on cloudy and rainy days. We are gonna get a few reservations – places like Denali and a couple places on the Kenai Peninsula, but for the the most part, we’ll be traveling without. We’re really hoping to take advantage of some of the free sites along the roads. We’ll need to offset our fuel costs!
I hope Austin is everything you want and need it to be and then some! We, too, as you know, will be starting our Alaska trip from Florida one year after you. It is a lot of planning, but you’ll have those delicious Austin tacos and all that luxurious room to spread out your planning supplies. Route-planning might even be fun again! And Thor’s gonna love having a yard while Kevin has a full-sized kitchen. Did someone say TWO bathrooms? ????
Now I have to look at our route to see how close we get to that COE campground!
Yes! The idea of being able to plan our trip without having to book every single place is awesome. We’d like to have some freedom to stay and go as we feel necessary rather than being tied to a calendar all the time. If we can really do that, it will make the planning process a whole lot more fun. And you’re not kidding about spreading out the planning supplies. This is the first time I’ve ever route planned with a paper map. I usually just do everything on Google maps, but Alaska is so freaken big, I can’t do it on the computer. Crazy.
Here you are burnt out and you decide to drive to Alaska – brilliant! 🙂 I am sure the break in Austin will help and be very beneficial. Caravaning sounds like a great plan too. How many RVs are going? Can’t wait to follow along with all of you! In 2015 we flew to Anchorage and rented an RV, that’s how we fell in love with RVing. Make it a point to fly over to Katmaii National Park to see the bears!!!! But, book that very early as they book up quick. Not cheap, but once in a lifetime deal. Totally worth it.
Yes! Katmai is already on the list! I am not sure how we’ll get there – but one way or another, we want to see all those bears!! It doesn’t even seem real. We’re looking forward to it. We are just traveling with one other couple. They are good friends and we have similar travel styles, plus we can help each other out with dog sitting if one couple wants to go out for a day long or overnight trip.
Hope that stop in Austin refreshes you and you’ll be ready to hit the ground running when it’s time to head to Alaska. Caravanning with friends will be fun and I look forward to your summer 2020 posts. Now if only we could tap into Kylie Jenner’s recipe and make a few bucks! ????
Apparently, you just have to edit your photos to make yourself look like a cartoon character and people pile up cash on the table in front of you. I’m definitely gonna give it a shot 🙂
Those Gunter Hill and Grayton Beach campgrounds are what everyone has in their mind’s eye when they think of camping and “going full time” but the reality isn’t always as perfect. You learn to take the good with the bad and just hope you’re able to tip the scales toward the good most of the time! Austin is a great spot, I know you’ll enjoy your down time there and rest up for the big trip to Alaska….that will require a lot of seat time! We look forward to riding along.
And, yes Laurel, there is such a thing as 3/4 timers! I think it’s pretty much the best way to go – wink wink
Yup, those gorgeous parks are exactly what most people are thinking, but you’re right, it’s just a balancing act. There will be great campgrounds and terrible campgrounds, great stops and lousy stops. It’s all just an endless effort to balance it all out. And I think 3/4 time would be fabulous!! It seems like more and more people are going in that direction these days.
Austin is only a few hours from our home base- hope you enjoy your downtime there. We will be in Alaska this summer also. We are going with Adventure Caravans because I was too chicken to go it alone in the wilderness. Lol. Maybe our paths will cross.
You are the second person I know who is going up there this summer with a commercial caravan group. I think it makes a lot of sense. Let someone else do all the planning and ensure you’re not on your own if something breaks. We should definitely trade schedules. Once I figure things out, I can send you our rough plan. Maybe we’ll end up in the same place at the same time!
Oh I am so jealous, Alaska is on our bucket list as well and we will start off so much closer than you will ☺
You need to include the Okanagan on your way there, it is in southwest BC and is great wine country with many award-winning wineries, and in recent years has seen a big growth in Craft Breweries. If you come through B.C. in the spring plan on staying at Bear Creek Provincial Park in Kelowna, B.C. and we will take you and your friends touring. If you go through southern BC or southern Alberta after mid June you will probably need to make reservations, as campsites are hard to come by. Let me know if you need any help choosing places to stay.
Staying in a house in Austin for two months and eating tacos sounds like a great way to go!
That sunset photo at Grayton Beach State Park was stunning!
Hey thanks! I think we are gonna cross the border further east on the way up, but possibly come back on a more western route. This is all stuff that we need to figure out, but coming from where we are, I don’t think we’ll be that far west, at least initially. But since we’re aiming for SoCal after the trip, we may very well come through your area. I’ll let you know. It would be fun to meet up and we’d love a tour from a local! I know your park is beautiful and the kind of place we love to stay. Once I dig into this stuff more, I’ll ping you. Thanks for the help!
We made the trip to Alaska in 2016 pulling a Montana fifth wheel. It was awesome! One thing we saw that I would encourage you to see is the Salmon Glacier in Hyder, AK. To get to Hyder, you have to go to Stewart, BC. The Salmon Glacier is the most awesome thing we experienced on that trip ….. Stewart has a great full hook up campground that we stayed at for a week. We did have reservations there though. There is also a National Park Boardwalk along the road to the Salmon Glacier where you can observe brown bears catching salmon for a nominal fee. That happens in early August I think. Very cool! So excited for you guys! My husband wants to make the drive back to Alaska one more time …. we’ll see! Glacier National Park was enroute for us on the way home too…..
Fantastic! Thank you for the tip! I think we may try to see the Salmon Glacier on the way back south since we’re thinking of taking the Cassiar back anyway. All stuff that is yet to be planned, but it sounds great. And good to know about the reservations for that campground. We’re hoping to do as little of that as possible, but we know there are certain popular stops that we’ll have to plan for. It’s going to be a juggling act, for sure. Anyway, I’m glad to hear you enjoyed your trip up there. We’re really looking forward to it!
We’ve been in Flagler Beach at Beverley Beach Camptown since Jan 27, midway between St Augustine and Daytona. Parked on the sea wall, with ocean spray on the windshield. EVAs to Venice, Cocoa Beach for a night ROCKET LAUNCH. A month together as practice for a potential retirement near-full time experience. It’s been great. But Alaska is on our bucket list too, so I await your planning and executing stories.
Oh, you got to see a rocket launch??? I’m so jealous! We were so close twice, but it didn’t happen either time. That is awesome! I’m glad you guys are having fun and enjoying the RV. “Near full time” sounds like a really great way to do it. If you can maintain some sort of base, I think it will serve you well. We’re looking forward to Alaska and will definitely share the whole planning process as we go. It’s a big project to take on, but there are lots of resources out there which helps. Have a fantastic time in Florida. I’m bummed we just missed you guys.
Brilliant idea that Airbnb thing. have some great down time with all those tacos! Thanks as always for a great post. Your holiday season seemed quite nice. 🙂
Thanks. Looking at it now, the AirBnB is such an obvious solution, but we’ve seen very few others do it. So, maybe there’s a reason? We’ll see how it goes!! The holidays were really great. It’s always nice to be around family that time of year.
We did Alaska in ‘16 with no reservations and had no problem. There are lots of FCFS campgrounds as well as roadside pullouts to crash for the night. We are headed up there again this year so maybe we will cross [email protected]!
YES! This is what I want to hear! I am holding onto this dream of not having to make reservations for every place we go with all my might. I know it’s not always possible, but from what I’m hearing, more often than not, you can just find a free spot or a FCFS campground. Fingers crossed. It will make things so much easier if we can do that – especially when the weather is so unpredictable. And yes – let’s keep an eye out for one another up there. Would be fun to meet up!
The house in Austin sounds like the perfect idea before you head to Alaska. It sounds like you really need the time off the road to mentally prepare for the trip. It’s interesting that of all the towns and cities in this country and Canada we have visited in eight years of full timing, we never stopped in Austin. We did have a week scheduled in our only trip across TX (we avoided TX on every trip east/west for six years except once) but cancelled to get beyond it and avoid the seven days of rain predicted. Texas is my least favorite state. You certainly found some dream parks which is what we are looking for in our travels. Thor sure was enjoying his time with grandma and grandpa. Lots of pampering. Good luck with the Alaska planning. Another spot we haven’t visited. We don’t want to take the MH so we are planning a cruise, train, and rental RV adventure! It will be exciting following your trip.
That’s funny that you never made it to Austin. We have visited twice and really enjoyed it. There’s a lot of great stuff there and the state park is fantastic. We had mixed experiences at other Texas spots. A lot of the state parks are very nice, but seem underfunded. Either way, we’re looking forward to the break in a city we already know we like and want to explore more. Are you planning an Alaska trip now or this is an idea for some day in the future? The trains up there look wonderful and the cruises take visitors to the most beautiful spots. If not for having a dog, we might consider something like that – or at least ride the ferry – but alas, having a furball with us means our travel plans sometimes revolve around what works for him. Anyway, I don’t think there’s a wrong way to see Alaska! We’re really looking forward to it!
Alaska is not for the faint of heart for it is all about adventure when you head up there in the last frontier. I’m excited about your summer plans since Alaska was our maiden trip in 2012, and we were greenhorns then but survived it. You have had all the challenges in the past 3 1/2 years, so a trip in Alaska would be a piece of cake:) but with a different mindset.
I’m sure you already know this but, the Milepost is your friend, so I hope you already ordered it for it will help you with your route planning as well as when you are on the road. Be prepared for mosquitos, mud, and really long drives in the wilderness. Dropping by the VC was what we did first each time we arrive in town. Slow driving on the Alaskan Highway will save Barney in the long haul to your entry into Tok, Alaska.Wohoo!
I am still blown away by the fact that you guys went to Alaska FIRST when you started traveling. That is crazy! But, I have consulted your blog posts from then and I will be going back again as I really dig into my planning. They will undoubtedly be extremely helpful! I do have a copy of the Milepost and will be using it quite a bit. This will definitely be a very different type of trip for us – planning with paper maps, lacking connectivity, few reservations… but we are excited to see this incredible place with our own eyes and we’re feeling ready to change things up a bit. It’s gonna be fun!!
Great plan for sure. I started thinking about an exit strategy even before we hit the road as I continually read about what others were doing and added their ideas to the list. Taking a short break at a furnished rental was something I had not thought about. Thanks for the idea. Do you think living small has changed your opinion of what you would want when you someday do come off the road in terms of size and upkeep?
Read a blog post maybe five years ago where a fulltime couple was sitting eating breakfast in a town they found themselves coming back to all the time because they really liked it. They noticed in the area of the restaurant that patio homes were being built which included a very small fence yard. They walked across the street for a visit as homes were under construction. They asked what the price would be and were happy with the low cost. So they ordered a patio home to be built at some short time in the future.
Adversity creates a need for change. And often that change is exactly what was needed regardless of how big the change becomes. It will be interesting to hear how the test run in Austin goes. Assuming you don’t take a break from blogging which is totally understandable if you do.
I could see how caravanning might help break up the responsibility of finding a place to park, car rides into town and more.
So, we lived in a very small townhouse before we started RVing, so we are used to living small. What we realized living in that small house was we only used a tiny portion of it, and our experience in the RV has confirmed, we just don’t need that much space. We want a smartly designed space, not a large space. That’s why we are comfortable with living in a city – what’s important to us is the energy and features of the surroundings. We don’t need much within the home itself. It’s nice to know that for sure now.
It is certainly interesting to see and think about how these ideas come about. One minute you’re living your life with no thought of needing change and the next, the only thing that makes sense is a big change. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, of course. If anything, we as a society, are often too resistant to change.
Gunter Hill is in our top 5 COE campground. Hope your Austin break refreshes y’all. Caravanning with friends is the way to go to AK, looking forward to your posts from there.
Thanks! So far, Austin has been great – exactly the break we needed. I think we’ll be more than ready to hit the road by the time we leave, but for right now, we’re enjoying the sweet, blessed boredom! Hope you guys are well!