Our RV Trip Was Quickly Becoming a Florida Flop… Until We Shifted Gears

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Our RV Trip Was Quickly Becoming a Florida Flop… Until We Shifted Gears

“Head to Florida for the winter during your RV trip”, they said. “You can enjoy the sunshine and be like snowbirds! It’ll be wonderful!”

Yeah, well, guess what – we disagree. Making Florida part of our RV trip was quickly becoming a source of frustration for all of us. And when you have three people in a small 22′ RV travel trailer, that frustration can easily become a nightmare.

Lisa, Faith, and I were at that point and everyone was starting to get miserable. Stress levels were high and this wasn’t the way we envisioned Loop 2 of our RV trip going.

Finally, I called an audible and proposed a completely new plan to the girls. They agreed, we then pivoted completely, and things have been going vastly better since.

Here’s what happened that caused our aggravation and despair and how we called a timeout and changed our RV trip plans for the better…

Why were we so frustrated with this part of the RV trip?

If you’re new to our latest adventure, we’re currently on month 5 of our 9-month road trip around the country. We broke it into four parts:

  • Local Living (COMPLETE) – This consisted of a month of living in the RV at a couple of campgrounds near home in Ohio while we worked out the kinks.
  • Loop 1 (COMPLETE) – This part of the RV trip was from Ohio to Texas to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Texas for Thanksgiving and then head back.
  • Loop 2 (IN PROCESS) – This was slated to be a trip down to southern Florida to dodge the winter. Yes, we were aiming to be snowbirds for the year.
  • Loop 3 (IN THE SPRING) – We’ll be doing a clockwise loop from Ohio toward Arizona, up north through Utah and Wyoming, and then work our way back east through South Dakota onward to Ohio.

Sounds fun, right?

Ok, well I’d say that our initial segment of living in a couple of nearby parks went well. We learned a lot and got a good handle on things.

Loop 1 went… well, ok. You can read more about it in my post, The Ups and Downs of RV Life: 45 Days in Our Tiny Home, but the gist is that we learned we needed to slow down and enjoy it more along the way. We did have fun but we felt rushed and tried to cram too much into a short amount of time.

So here we are on Loop 2 of our RV trip. We learned a lot from Loop 1 and we were in no hurry to be anywhere for this leg of the trip. Our only goal was to get out of the cold for the winter. We figured we could slow down as it got warmer near Georgia and take our time exploring our way through Florida and basking in the sun in all its glory.

Are you picturing palm trees at the beach and foo-foo drinks in hand?

Yeah, we were, too… well kind of. We knew that Florida gets crazy busy this time of year and anticipated that we’d be spending more time on the interior of Florida doing more dispersed camping than being at the RV parks. And that was just fine with us.

And then reality set in…

As we worked our way down from Ohio starting in early January, the cold weather continued to follow us with a vengeance. In fact, it pummeled most of the country.

We quickly decided that boondocking didn’t make sense to do right away on this part of our RV trip just because of how cold it was.

We knew we’d be miserable and burning through propane left and right wasn’t going to help. At least at the parks, we could just use our electric heater to keep warm.

So that’s what we did. And we made the best of things as we do. We had fun meeting up with friends at a couple of different places in Georgia…

And, of course, we went to Expedition Bigfoot! The Sasquatch Museum

But it was just so cold out day after day. That meant no lounging around outside of the RV throughout the day and no gathering around a fire at night. It was just way too cold. It also made it difficult for me to work out. I brought along my awesome Bowflex adjustable dumbbells to use outside 4 days a week, but most of the time, it was just too cold to even consider doing that.

You’ve got to understand – I just don’t do well in the cold. Yes, we could bundle up but we didn’t bring much in the area of winter clothes, and even if we did, I’m just not a cold-weather guy. I truly despise the cold.

That was a punch in the face because we planned to do a lot of outdoor stuff (hiking, walking around, exploring, campfires, etc.) but we just couldn’t get the weather to cooperate. We did manage to make some of those things happen, but it was limited. We only pulled out our camping chairs after about 3 weeks on the road and finally were able to have a single campfire about that time as well.

That also meant we spent almost all of our days together in our small RV. Now, we all love each other – don’t get me wrong – but having a little space is something that none of us were getting.

So we just kept moving south… but so did the cold. It wasn’t until we got to Tate’s Hell State Forest in the panhandle of Florida that we got a day or two of decent weather. It wasn’t great but it was enough that we could breathe a little bit.

Even as I type this now though (over a month after we left Ohio), we’re finally just getting some weather in the mid-70s. This cold weather was just becoming way more than we bargained for on any RV trip we’d want to be on.

But, we made our way into Florida and that’s when we started to learn the reality… finding available spots anywhere in Florida in the winter is tough. We planned to spend long weekends boondocking (dispersed camping) and then check in at an RV park here or there to dump the sewer, fill up the water, and charge up the batteries if needed.

Not so much. Finding places to set up was difficult. Most of the campgrounds might only have a random day or two open in a row and then boondocking was a struggle, too. Most of the off-grid places we were finding were at capacity, too (and sometimes they charged a fee to stay there). There are also not a lot of BLM-type places here like there are out west and the National Forests were even hard for us to make work.

We knew things would be busy but we underestimated just how packed it gets in Florida. And the further south we started to dig into, the worse it looked.

While staying at an RV park in Old Town, Florida (west of Gainesville), figuring out our next move was tough and I was getting aggravated. It was our fault for not booking in advance, but we wanted the flexibility to float around and check out different places. Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen in central and southern Florida during the winter.

Planning where you want to go on an RV trip is time-consuming… like really time-consuming. Do it for a one-week trip and -BOOM- it’s done – you put in a little effort, take your trip a little later, and life is good.

But when you’re doing this over and over again, it becomes a huge time suck. Because we weren’t finding available spots for increments of a week or two, we were instead just staying at places for a few days here and there. That meant more planning, more traveling to different places, and more setting up and taking down.

I struggled a lot with this. I value my time and I felt like we were just wasting way too much of it. I wanted to settle in at a place, work out in the mornings, and then explore the areas we were in later in the day.

It wasn’t happening.

This just added to the stress we were already having.

After our stay at Tate’s Hell State Forest (a cool place to stay), we realized something, Although it’s easy to say you don’t care about your electronics or the internet in general, when your internet connection sucks, it can be maddening.

I think if we had better weather and could be outside more, this would be less of an issue. But when you’re stuck inside a good portion of each day, having a good internet connection is valuable.

I will say that our Calyx internet hotspot with unlimited data and no throttling has been doing a much better job than our phones. We seem to get a better signal with that than with our phones even though they both utilize T-Mobile’s network. But even so, when there aren’t any cell phone towers anywhere, you’re just not going to get a signal regardless (unless you spend the bigger money on Starlink).

A lot of times we would be in the middle of nowhere with pitiful speeds. Then it became all about priorities. Faith’s doing her homeschooling… everyone else close your laptops and put your phones in airplane mode. I’m trying to work on a blog post or do our taxes… everyone else needs to get off the connection.

This made us realize that staying in the National Forests or other remote places in northern Florida would be tough for us on the RV trip, particularly while the weather wasn’t cooperating.

What did we decide to do about it?

We pivoted. We were in Old Town, Florida (west of Gainesville) and we were all mentally fried. I started thinking about things one night and then pitched an idea to Lisa and Faith the next morning.

What if we skip a lot of our original plan to head way down the west coast of Florida and then way up the east coast? What if we just make our way over to the Jacksonville area now and set up shop there for a few weeks? We could slow down and finally relax and have more time on this leg of the RV trip.

We might not have weather as warm as we would in southern Florida but it will still beat an Ohio winter! And there are plenty of good places to visit in that area, including some nearby beaches. Then, when the weather starts to get a little better, we’ll slowly start working our way back up the east coast of the US on our way back to Ohio.

Everyone was easily on board with that idea and when our stay in Old Town was over, we made our way across the state of Florida to the east coast. We’ve been floating around different places just north of Jacksonville as well as southern Georgia for almost three weeks now.

Is it helping?

Yes. 100% yes!! It’s like a huge weight was instantly lifted from all of our shoulders.

We’re finally staying at places for a week or more and had the opportunity to settle down a little more and just enjoy our RV trip. The weather’s mostly been in the 60s and 70s, which is great for getting outside and hiking more.

We spent a day at Amelia Island on this new portion of the RV trip and really enjoyed it. The historic district had that small-town feel to it that we liked. We walked around there for a while and bought some fudge before leaving… mmm, fudge! Then we headed over to the ocean. It was too cold to swim, but we enjoyed walking along the beach and collecting shells. Then we had a good lunch at Sandbar Amelia Island (which is right on the beach).

We liked this island a lot and I have a feeling we’ll be back! Hopefully, some spots to park our RV will open up there before we decide to start making our way north!

We then found a beautiful horse ranch called The Ranch at Traders Hill on our way up to Georgia through Harvest Hosts, which was a great short stay. The property manager was great and the sites had full hookups alongside a clean bath house with free laundry machines. We enjoyed seeing all the horses and Faith took a trail ride through the woods and along the river.

Okefenokee Swamp. I never heard of it before but it’s sure fun to say… Oak-y-fen-no-key! We did a bunch of things at the Okefenokee location in Folkston, GA: a scenic drive, hiking, and a 90-minute swamp tour by boat through Okefenokee Adventures. We saw several alligators among other wildlife. The gators we saw that day weren’t the 10-footers I was hoping for but the boat tour was still worth it.

We stayed at a great state park in Waycross, Georgia called Laura S. Walker State Park for 12 nights. We had a spot right on the lake for most of our stay there and we were able to put out the outdoor rug and enjoy our time. We hiked a few different trails, rented bikes, had some fun geocaching, lounged around outside more, and cooked over our campfire. I’ve been able to work out four days a week again, too.

Does that affect the rest of the road trip?

We’re learning that we might not be “RV people.” I mean, we’ve easily got things down as far as how to do everything, but we keep joking about how “next time” we’ll just take a flight into a city, grab a ride to a hotel, enjoy our time, and then take a flight into the next place… no muss, no fuss! 😉

I’m exaggerating – we are enjoying our time but it’s not what we envisioned. And that’s ok – this is just one big experiment, after all. I think we’re all glad that we tried it regardless, but we’re also happy to know that we’re not going to be doing this forever.

We’ve still got one more loop on the RV trip after we finish this one. We’re going to be heading out west starting in the spring for a couple of months. So, based on what we’ve learned so far, does this change anything for the rest of the road trip?

Sure it does!

Lisa, Faith, and I already talked about two things that need to come into play for Loop 3:

  • Consolidating our plans
  • Being aware of our internet connectivity

Here’s that picture again of our original draft of Loop 3 of the RV trip…

That’s a heckuva lot of territory to cover – even if it is over a couple of months!

We learned from Loop 1 to slow down more on our RV trip. This was a little harder to make happen during the first half of Loop 2 since we were running from the cold weather, but we’re sure as heck doing it now!

But slowing down with that big of a stretch to do on Loop 3 could be problematic. So we’ve already decided that we’re going to come up with the major waypoints that we all truly want to hit and spend most of our time at those places. The rest of our days will be spent moving along a little quicker to get to those places.

Right now, those major waypoints are:

  • Colorado – we haven’t figured this one out yet, but someplace there (maybe Cottonwood Pass?)
  • Arizona to visit friends (hi Steve and Courtney!!)
  • Las Vegas to visit family… and because it’s Vegas!!
  • Utah – one or two of the national or state parks and some boondocking
  • Yellowstone – believe it or not, this is a “maybe” since we’ve been there already and the weather might still be pretty cold
  • In the Badlands area in South Dakota – particularly, I want to boondock again at the Wall

These may change, but that’s kind of the gist of what we’re looking at to keep things a little more concise for that part of the RV trip. So that map of Loop 3 is definitely going to change!

We talked about how we learned that good internet connectivity is more important than we anticipated for our RV trip. This is going to be something to keep in mind when Loop 3 takes us out west and we’re boondocking a lot more. There isn’t going to be good cell service at a lot of places there.

We already know that from our last road trips, but it wasn’t as relevant then because we usually only stayed in a place for a night before we moved on… and had cell signal again. When we do our boondocking on this leg of the RV trip, staying for more than 2-3 nights might lead to some frustration.

So, I think that’s just something we need to keep in mind. Hopefully, we’ll be able to be outdoors a lot more so it won’t be a necessity all the time, but we’ll still need it for planning, blogging, and just handling the tasks of daily life (email, paying the bills, etc.).

Limiting our boondocking to smaller stints should alleviate most of that frustration. We can still do plenty of it but we’ll probably want to slip in places with some connectivity every few days for a day or two. I’m sure this is one we’ll need to experience to figure out the right balance for us.

So that’s it. Just like anything in life, nothing’s perfect. A lot of times, you need to take a step back, figure out how to make it better, and take action.

That’s exactly what we did and I can say that things are going so much better now… and it’s a heckuva lot better than sitting in the cold winter back home!

To read about our whole RV adventure, here are the related posts from start to finish…

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

20 thoughts on “Our RV Trip Was Quickly Becoming a Florida Flop… Until We Shifted Gears”

  1. Hi Jim, great post! Our experiences a few years back during our RV phase were similar to yours, especially around the planning. We always wanted to just go when and. where we feel like it but soon learned that camping spots in popular areas fill up fast and planning is often required even with an RV. I miss the times when I traveled in the early 90s, no planning required, you just stop and look for a motel or camping spot in the early evening. Nowadays you either won’t find one available or last minute prices are through the roof. Good luck with the rest of your trip!

    1. Ah, how the times have changed, right? 🙂 It takes out a little bit of the fun when you need to plan everything so far in advance but I guess that’s the way it foes when you’re looking at the popular areas. It’s been a lot easier now that we’re in the Georgia area – a lot more flexibility, which is exactly what we needed. It’s tremendously better than it was in Florida!

  2. I don’t know the price differential with Starlink, but I do know that it is amazing connection. My parents live in rural SC, and for years we couldn’t visit them during the workweek because they had NO INTERNET, and if we wanted to work remotely, or the kids needed to do homework online, etc. it was impossible. Fast forward to last year when they got Starlink: all of us can connect and stream and we have amazing, fast connection. And that sattelite is tiny. All this to say, that may be a place you want to consider spending your money, if it would radically change the quality of your wifi life. Knowing the “before” and “after” at my parent’s house, I would say seriously consider it.

    1. Hi Laurie, it’s been forever – hope you’re doing well! Yeah, there’s no doubt Starlink could flip around the internet dilemma in a heartbeat. The hard part to swallow is the cost. For their mobile roam plan it would be $150/month PLUS the initial hardware of $599. I think if we were planning on doing this over the long haul, that would be a no-brainer but I can’t get it to make sense for us for just another 3-4 months on the road (though I’m sure we could use it when we got back as well).

  3. Hi Jim, the West has a lot more wide open spaces with no cell reception than the East. You may need a better connectivity solution than what you currently have to avoid frustration. Perhaps buy some used Starlink hardware, activate service just for the trip, and resell afterwards. Good luck. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Dave – yeah, we did some boondocking out west on our last road trip (without the RV) and learned pretty quickly about the lack of signal in a lot of places. The big hurdle to Starlink is the cost but I never thought about buying used and reselling it after. I’ll definitely dig into that – thanks for the idea!!

  4. Jim, it was great seeing you during your stop in Blue Ridge. sorry FL wasn’t as expected, you may want to consider doing more pre-booking of your campsites out West, esp since Natl Parks can get booked far in advance. Nice “shift” in your approach, glad you’re figuring it out as you go!

  5. If in doubt go further south!
    Thanks for letting us see the +/- of RV life. I mentioned before that to me it sounded nice in theory but after some introspection it wouldn’t be for me. Too much work. Like you said, it is a learning experience and you will look back on it with fondness, no matter how much of it is bad. That’s the way our brains are wired.
    Ironically here in NE Ohio there is now snow on the ground. Been here 20 years and I can’t recall this little snow at this time of year. Probably going to be a bad March and April to catch up. Don’t come back until you know it is going to stay warm. I hate the cold as much or more than you!

    1. So true – the problems tend to turn into the stories that you remember the best! You’re welcome on the lack of snow – I’m sure when we come back in the spring, we’ll bring in a blizzard for you to make up for it! 😉

  6. when you head west you might try reservations at Canyonlands and Capitol Reef NP instead of Zion or Bryce. They are less crowded and still stunning.

    1. Nice! Several weeks ago, Clark Howard happened to mention that there were some great parks there that aren’t as popular but are still amazing. I noted that, but now you’re giving me some actual names of those places… thanks, Kev!! I added them to my notes!

  7. Thanks for sharing the not-so-pretty side of nomad life in a RV. I’m like you, I don’t do to well in the cold for prolonged periods of time. I loved CO, but those single digit temps made life somewhat disenchanting. You passed some beautiful areas, right near Chattanooga, TN! I lived there for a bit and it’s a wonderful small city, with hiking/mountain biking and day’s access to the larger towns like Nashville and ATL. Enjoy the slower pace, soak it in!

  8. I’m a Colorado native and spent most of my life in Colorado before moving to Texas. I moved to Texas because I do not like cold winter weather. If you are in the vicinity of Buena Vista, which is near Cottonwood Pass you might check out Mt. Princeton hot springs. It is a picturesque area along “Chalk Creek” which has a couple of geothermal fed hot springs swimming pools. You can also sit in thermal pools along the creek where warm water comes up from the core of the earth to heat natural pools. There are great hiking trails, fishing streams and good restaurants in the area. Several whitewater rafting companies operate along the Arkansas River, which can provide you with an adrenaline rush to remember. They will provide you with helmets and a short safety class (listen-up), if you go on one of the rafting trips. Also, the Royal Gorge is located near Canon City, CO which is traversed by one of the highest suspension bridges in the world (this is a tourist attraction which you pay to visit). In the summer many of the famous Colorado Ski Resorts are great places to visit, offering natural beauty, great amenities and lower off-season rates.

  9. Hi Jim, like you, I don’t deal well with the cold especially during camping. Our family of 4 camped close to Pensacola beach the past Xmas and the cold had made me swear to never visit it again in the winter. lol. In Amelia island, where do you camp? I have the same camper as yours.

    Yes, Florida in winter hard to find campgrounds. I book a year ahead for our annual Xmas trip. Do you find camp sites expensive?

    I hear out west lots of BLM lands so easier to boondock? Haven’t not towed our camper that way but that is in our future plan.

    1. Hi Bee – yeah, the winter cold can be a real pain to us freeze babies, I guess! 🙂

      We didn’t end up camping at Amelia Island (Fort Clinch State Park) because we couldn’t find anything for more than a night here and there. That was a cool place though so I hope we can get back there again sometime in the future!

      That was smart booking a year ahead for Christmas. As far as the pricing being expensive, I guess that depends. If you stay at the standard RV parks, most of the nicer ones are expensive, However, some of the state parks are beautiful, more spread out, and in a more woodsy setting. I’ve found that those tend to be less expensive. We’re actually staying at a nice city park on a lake right now in Georgia and it was only $20/night for full-hookups. How’s that for a deal?!

      Once we head west, yes, boondocking will be tremendously easier to do. The BLM land opens up so many choices and provides an opportunity to see a lot more than just a neighbor’s sewer hose connection! 🙂 Glad to hear you have earmarked for the future – enjoy!

  10. Wow, I’m glad you found a spot to settle down for a few days. That’s a lot of learning experience. My wife definitely isn’t an RV person. She doesn’t want to move around too much. We don’t do well with cold weather either.
    Looking forward to reading about loop #3. Hopefully, it’ll warm up soon.

    1. Yeah, we’re quickly learning we’re not RV people either… at least for the long term. Glad we did this but it’s not really the way we envisioned it. I think loop 3 will be a lot more on par with that vision but I guess time will tell. And hopefully the weather warms up for that one as well! 🙂

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