I get asked this question quite a bit. Usually, I answer, “I didn’t have any real expectations.”
But that is not the truth, is it. I had some expectations, especially after years of watching YouTube videos and seeing posts on Facebook, something had to rub off. We tend to set our expectations to match the glamorized life of RVing seen online, but then reality isn’t always glamorous. It can be beautiful, it can also be tough.
Here are a few expectations from when we started:
1. Fear and anxiety of towing and backing in, a realistic expectation for many newbies.
2. The opportunity to visit places we only dreamed of and to discover places we didn’t know existed.
3. Expected to have more free time.
What people should be asking is, “What didn’t you expect? What were the unanticipated surprises, things you didn’t know when you started.” It is quite astonishing the unforeseen that happens, things you had no idea would exist.
Read about what we didn't expect....
In the blink of an eye, something happens by chance — when you least expect it — sets you on a course that you never planned, into a future you never imagined. — Nicholas Sparks
Life changes course over time, routing us toward a new direction, meandering along a different route, flowing and ebbing as the seasons and life change.
Back in March, just as we were starting this RV life, I wrote about Flexibility being Key, little did I know how flexible we were going to need to be.
I have never been one to shy away from change, but I am older now and change is a little more challenging than it used to be. Selling everything we own and planning a life on the road has been a BIG change, bringing an end to a long chapter with so much history. Now, we are starting the beginning of a new chapter, not yet written, yet with so many possibilities and unknowns.
Like many new RVers we had so many plans, so many dreams, so many places we wanted to visit. But life and the power of time often interfere with plans and dreams. We also recognized our limitations until we gain more experience and comfort in our abilities. We learned a lot about ourselves and what we were comfortable with on our first long journey from Anacortes to Michigan, because of this we decided to change our plans, once again.
Our original plan was to be in the northeast corner of the country by September, but we had a late start in leaving our hometown of Anacortes, WA, and didn’t make plans in advance.
We realized as we approached South Dakota that we didn’t feel quite ready for the east coast. We had rushed to get to Michigan and did not want to rush through the east coast, too. And with it getting a little too close to the winter season, we decided to change course.
“Sometimes, it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination.” — Drake
Our end goal was to be in the Smoky Mountains by mid to late October, which we do have planned and reserved for the last week of October. Like I said in my article, Route Planning, I usually pick a Point B and work backward to fill in the spots. Since we are no longer going to the northeast for Fall colors and instead heading to the Smoky Mountains, it made sense to change course once again. We decided we needed to meander for a while, slow it down a bit, enjoy the road, what better way to do that than to follow the Mississippi River.
We started our Mississippi journey at Clark’s Ferry Recreation Park in Montpelier, Iowa. This park is an Army Corp of Engineer park. We chose this park after reading some great reviews online and the bonus of it being right by the Mississippi River.
The park was everything the reviews mentioned and more. A delightful park with nice concrete sites, well laid out, and views of the Mississippi River. The park does not have full hook-ups, each site has power 30/50 amp, access to a water spigot, and there is a dump station conveniently located by the exit. We were there for five nights, so it was time to test our ability to conserve. Luckily the park had a building with clean and well-stocked restrooms and showers, so we used them, which saved our grey and black tanks from filling up. We used mostly paper plates so dishes were few, adding to our conservation.
Since we have started our travels I have found that some parks just “feel” right. They soothe your soul, provide a relaxing atmosphere, and you just feel comfortable and right at home, that was this park.
Unfortunately, we had to move on so we found a spot for two nights in Canton, Missouri. The Mississippi River RV Park is managed by the town of Canton. It is not much to write home about, but it does have full hook-ups on most of the sites, you can’t beat the $20 per night, and the VIEW makes it all worthwhile! You walk out your door and there is the Mississippi River plus the added bonus of the Locks and Dam #20 so you can watch barges do their jobs. This was a short stay, but well worth it.
Next destination… St. Louis, Missouri. Since I was a child I have been fascinated by St. Louis and the Arch. I don’t know why? Or, when it started? This was a destination that had to be on the Bucket List, so here we are. We found a spacious and well-laid-out city park, ran by the city of St. Peters, just outside of St. Louis. The park is named, 370 Lakeside Park, and is a large city park with a lake, an RV park, and so much to do. Another great find thanks to great reviews online. We liked it so much here, we extended our stay and added four more days.
My husband often tells people, “we don’t have plans, we have intentions” he read that somewhere, and we have found it to be so true. Our next intentions were to continue our journey down the Mississippi, ending in Memphis, but that intention is now waning. We are thinking of taking out journey through Kentucky and then down to Nashville before we head to our final destination by the Smoky Mountains.
Some days, I find it frustrating and stressful not planning ahead, not knowing where the road may take us, but part of this journey is learning to let go, to unwind, and just enjoy the route, knowing the destination will be fabulous when we finally find it.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” — Ernest Hemingway
Island to Island and everything in-between - our first major route.
Route planning is just one of many new skills a new RVer has to learn. You can watch countless YouTube videos on the subject (I have.) But until you start to do it, the information is just a reference. As you plan each trip, it adds to your skill level and your confidence. There are countless apps to utilize and there is a learning curve for many of them. Every RVer has their favorites and knows what works best for them. As we gain more experience we also develop our list of go-to apps and a system that works for our lifestyle and way to travel.
When we first started and took our first maiden voyage, I didn’t use any apps and I just picked campgrounds recommended in Facebook groups. I had just ended a stressful job, and life with its uncertainties these past few years, added to that stress so I needed time to decompress and let my mind relax before learning a lot of new things. I have since started educating myself on various apps and learning as to what works best for us.
For our second maiden voyage, the trip was going to be a little longer and a little further, but I still used Google maps for configuring our route. I used campgroundreviews.com for finding locations. I also used Harvest Host for overnighters. Since most of it was all close to home, we were familiar with the area and most of the routes. If I was uncertain about a route I would go into a few of my Facebook groups and ask for a recommendation, I still do this today.
After our maiden voyages, I learned quite a bit but it was time to get serious. We planned a trip to Michigan, the first leg of our extended full-time journey. For this trip, I used RV Trip Wizard to help plan our route. We bought a Garmin RV GPS 890 for the truck, but I still use Google Maps to verify. We have found that the Garmin and RV Trip Wizard aren’t always up-to-date in regard to road closures or other changes. We mostly wanted/needed the Garmin and RV Trip Wizard to help us locate RV-friendly roads, something Google Maps lacks. I now use RV Trip Wizard (who uses campgroundreviews.com) to look up possible places to stay.
My go-to website for reviews is Campgroundreviews.com. I find they have more to offer in RV parks and a lot more in-depth reviews and photos. Campendium is my second choice but I find them lacking in reviews and detailed photos (read our article about writing reviews.) I know many RVers use also RV Parky and Allstays, I use them when I feel I need to extend my search. But I have found that no one app offers a full list of parks. I am still new to boondocking so have yet to familiarize myself with those apps.
Once, I find some possible locations, I then research them on Google Earth to see if I can get a feel for the park, the entrance, the roads inside the park. This isn’t always accurate but it gives me an idea at least.
Planning the trip from Anacortes, WA to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan
We had a starting point, Anacortes, WA, our end destination was Petoskey, MI, with a stop in Garden Bay, MI in the U.P. We chose a midway point that we wanted to visit - South Dakota, check out our Picture Perfect article on South Dakota. I have found that this type of route planning works best for me (for now), where I pick a point A to point B with dates and then work backward from Point B to fill the in-between days.
The first half of this trip we went from Anacortes, WA to Hermosa, SD
I used RV Trip Wizard to plan the route. Our target date to leave Anacortes was August 12th. Our deadline to arrive at the Heartland RV Park in Hermosa, South Dakota was August 16th. We had four nights in between. Being a planner and a Type-A personality, I did not quite feel comfortable yet with not knowing where to stay the night. We had around 1100 miles to cover in this time frame and we estimated our stamina could only last around 200-250 miles or about 4-6 hours of driving. As newbies, we did not want to arrive at night. We are also not good at being morning people, so that meant leaving somewhere around 10:00 am and wanting to arrive between 4:00 to 5:00 pm. I planned each night ahead of time from Anacortes to South Dakota.
Wanapaum State Park - Washington State - Photo by Tony Locke
We reserved a spot at Wanapaum State Park in the eastern part of Washington state. 212 Miles
Smoke moved into the area just as we were leaving Anacortes that morning, increasing as we drove over the Cascade mountains. We arrived shortly before 4:00 pm, the smoke was thicker but not so thick we could not breath or see the Columbia River. The heat was close to 90 with a touch of mugginess. We settled in and waited until early evening to walk the park where we met two couples in their Airstreams. This is now one of favorite locations for camping. I highly recommend it.
1. Location, location, location. This park is a state Gem and aptly so. Located right next to the Columbia River, just a brief drive off of I-90. It is an oasis and I wished we had the time to have stayed longer. A definite must visit.
2. Had full hook-up, something you don’t always find in every state park.
3. Nice facilities.
4. Clean and well maintained. 5. Easy in and out, good interior roads, and nice spacious sites. Even a newbie, like us could back in. Pull-throughs are available.
6. VIEWS! Pick a site next to the water for a spectacular view of the Columbia River. But all sites have a nice view of the area.
7. Boat ramp by the park, beach, swimming area.
Quite frankly, I can’t think of any cons, except for maybe rattlesnakes, so watch your pets and children.
1. Nice and easy access from I-90.
2. Great service and staff. They guide you to your site and make sure you have all that you need to settle in.
3. There are quite a few amenities. Bathrooms/Showers and laundry.
4. Walking trails around the park.
5. Full hook-ups.
6. Pull through and back in sites.
1. Some tight turns in a few areas, these are daunting when you are new or a larger rig. A seasoned RVer would be fine.
2. Our site was a pull-through and located in the back of the park. It was gravel. It was not level and it dipped in the middle, which would have made for a rough unhitching and hitching up, but since we there only there for the night we did not unhitch.
3. Hook-ups were towards the front of the site by the truck, luckily we have a long electrical cord and water hose. The sewer connection was close enough for our sewer hose.
4. Neighbors fairly close but not too bad.
Bozeman, Montana - a HipCamp location 274 Miles
I could not locate a Harvest Host in this area. There were a couple of parks but they were either costly or the reviews were not too inviting, so we decided to try a HipCamp location. It was a fairly easy to get to location and a great host. The view from this location would have been beautiful if it wasn’t for the smoke in the distance hiding the mountain ranges. The heat was still high, but a cool breeze made it bearable so we didn’t need to hook-up our generator.
1. Location was convenient.
2. Great host.
3. Free vegetables from their garden.
4. Really good tasting water if we needed it.
5. They have around 5 spots, four of which have electricity hook-up, our site did not.
1. Directions to find it was a little confusing so had to call but she stayed on the phone with me and waved us in.
2. We parked on a grassy area, luckily it wasn’t wet, but it did have a lot of gopher holes so we had to be careful when we left.
3. A bit pricey for what we got. The price would be fine for the sites with electricity but we paid what we would pay for a medium RV park to basically park on someone’s grass.
Peter D’s RV park in Sheridan, Wyoming 271 miles
This park was a delight. I reached out via phone (they are still a bit old-fashioned) and they got back to me almost immediately. The couple who own the park were welcoming and provided good ole fashion customer service. The park had good reviews and is a no-frills park. The sites are all pull-through.
1. Great location right off the highway.
2. Pete - the owner is a definite PRO. Generous, kind, and made you feel right at home. True personal service.
3. Good hook-ups.
4. Lengthy pull-throughs.
5. It was about a mile walk into the downtown area of Sheridan.
6. Veggie garden and they will offer you veggies from it.
7. Bathroom/Showers, laundry facility.
1. The sites are close together.
2. Interior roads are a bit narrow but doable.
Betty Jo (the Airstream) and the night sky - photo by Chris Locke
The second half of our route, between South Dakota and Garden Bay, MI, I purposely did not plan overnight stays ahead of time. It was time to try my hand at winging it. Instead, we planned our stay the night before. Chancy for someone like me, but I needed to learn “how” to do this, eventually there would come a time when we needed to wing it, plus having such definitive plans all the time kind of takes the fun out of rving.
We left Hermosa on August 22nd. We calculated about 200 to 250 miles out and narrowed down our search for a nightly stay. We found an RV park just off I-90 in the town of White Lake, SD. The reviews were mixed and when I looked it up on Google Earth it looked empty, so either something was wrong? Or the park was fairly new when the photo was taken? It was next to a small motel and managed by the staff. We took a chance. We spent the night at The Siding RV Park in White Lake, South Dakota. For an overnight location it works but definitely would not choose this for any real length of time. We also had a thunderstorm and tornado watch. We watched it closely, luckily it stayed off in the distance. 255 Miles.
Easy off and on to I-90.
2. Pull -through sites.
3. Decent Hook-ups.
1. Hard to get hold of anyone, but they are fairly responsive to voicemails.
2. The park matched the Google Earth photo, it was practically empty. This turned out to be an advantage for us, I was able to practice my driving skills and drove Betty Jo out of the site in the morning and around the park to the exit.
3. Site was gravel mixed with grass and roughly outlined.
Summer Hideaway in Necedah, WI 229 miles
The night before, we had narrowed down our search to three possible locations. Summer Hideaway was the only one we could get a hold of on such short notice. It was an okay find, not my favorite and not one I would like to visit again. Mostly a Seasonal RV Park where people purchase/reserve a spot for the season. They have about twelve pull-through sites set aside for short-term guests.
1. Good for an overnight or two.
2. Nice Amenities.
1. A bit off the beaten path. Follow their directions when you get close, not Google Maps, to locate it.
2. Gated community at night and mostly seasonal RVers.
3. Cell signal was very weak and the internet service was spotty at best, even the seasonal residents complain about the service.
4. The location of the guest pull-throughs are sequestered in the back of the park - the plus side is it is easier to navigate to.and close to a laundry facility and restrooms.
5. Sites are rustic and sandy, and buried amongst a lot of trees, which might be nice on a hot summer day, I would be concerned during a wind storm.
6. The staff was okay but a bit aloof and not always available, they asked what time to expect us so they could make sure someone was in the office.
7. The amenities are quite a distance from the guest sites.
8. The Seasonal campers spread out on their sites and there are quite a few tiny homes.
Harvest Host in Peshtigo, WI - A dairy farm
Peshtigo, WI 179 Miles
This night we decided to try our hand at a Harvest Host we located on the website. The request to stay was accepted via the website with instructions to call once we were an hour out. Our hosts were delightful and very busy.
1. The location was fairly easy to get to and to get back to the highway.
2. It is a dairy farm so it was a great experience watching the workings of milking the cows.
3. Our hosts were fantastic and despite their very busy schedule they were fairly responsive via texts.
4. The Goodie Bag - we were given a goodie bag upon arrival with packages of cheese snacks and fresh chocolate chip cookies. A yummy greeting after a day of travel.
5. The meat we bought was really good. As part of the Harvest Hosts agreement, it is customary to purchase products from your hosts, and we did.
6. Photographing the cows.
7. Easy pull through (around) parking.
1. The only real con was the heat and humidity.
By the second half of the trip, we got better at locating gas stations and rest stops. And we were more comfortable with the road trip.
We learned quite a bit:
1. The one thing we learned most was what we were capable of when driving. Driving too many miles and hours and too many days in a row was too much.
2. Trying not to restrict ourselves in timelines so much. Many RVers talk about this in their videos.
3. How to use the variety of Apps available. On this trip, we not only had to use our trip planning apps and apps for where to stay, but we also had to utilize our apps and Garmin for diesel truck stops and rest stops. We used the app I-exit more to find out what was available at upcoming exits. Practicing with the use of the weather apps more.
4. Traveling full-time as a couple. What works, what doesn’t. We have been married a long time, so we are familiar with each other’s strengths and weaknesses, traveling full-time added to the list.
5. While in South Dakota, we learned we had driven through a swarm of bees at some point in Oregon. Dead bees had clogged up our air filter and our radiator. We didn’t catch it till later when a check engine light came on.
6. It was on this trip, where we discovered more about ourselves and our capabilities. We decided to alter our plans for traveling to the northeast. We knew we were not ready for that particular adventure yet.
7. I don’t need to plan everything to the last minute. Yet, I do still need to plan since parks can be difficult to get into. I have also learned that I can “wing” it a little. :-)
8. We have learned to back in more and feel more comfortable with doing it.
9. We’ve learned more about living on the road. It is an adjustment. It requires flexibility, conservation of your utilities, and adapting to your surroundings. Learning to locate the basics, such as laundry facilities and grocery stores, things we take for granted when living in a home and community.
Considering how much I love to plan, I found route planning to be daunting at first. Now, I am more comfortable with it. I have an idea of what works best for us, but it is still so time-consuming.
What works for me may not work for someone else. We each need to find our rhythm, our joy and learn the way that works for us. I am grateful to all of those who share their experience and provide advice. It helped me get started. Thank you!
Small Space Living
Sometimes, you just need to say, “You’re in my space. I need some time alone. Some privacy”.
Imagine going from an 1800 sq. ft house to a 27’ Airstream. Full time. All the time. One-bedroom. One bath. One tiny living space. Two people.
During our forty-five years of marriage, we have spent a lot of time together. We owned a couple of small businesses jointly, raised two children together. Since Covid, we have been in our little bubble, just the two of us. None of that had prepared us for being in a small space. Close quarters. All. The. Time. Before, we could at least retreat to our own space.
We are developing a rhythm, a routine for negotiating the space. With such a narrow space, we often need to take turns moving from one end to the other. This creates a unique dance. A shuffle, a scoot, then a slide, past the other, as we move from end to end. A lot of excuse me or you go first.
During meal prep, it is hazardous for us to both be in the galley. We have learned only one of us can be in the galley while the other prepares at the dining table. The morning bathroom routine had to change now that we are just one bathroom. Thankfully, the shower and the bathroom area are separate in the Airstream model we have. Thus making the morning routine less strenuous and crowded. We have his side/her side of the only table for working space.
If we need more privacy, we can always retreat outside, to the truck, and on bad weather days, one can be at the table, the other in the bedroom.
Not all of our time is spent in the Airstream. A good majority of our time is actually in even closer quarters, inside our Ford F-250. Compared to other vehicles we have owned, Jack (the Ford F-250) has a more spacious interior, so less likely to be bumping into each other while traveling. We listen to music or podcasts, get lost in our own thoughts, or just sit in silence. When we do argue, it often begins in the truck than continues into the Airstream.
After over a year of social distancing and Covid, I think we are even more sensitive than ever before about our “personal space”. And, when you are an introvert, you need downtime to recharge and regroup. It helps to learn to respect the other’s need for alone time, for quiet time or to just back off when they are having a bad day.
We also need to take joy in the time together. To be grateful that we have someone we can spend time with, enjoy their company, share the laughs and tears with.
It is okay to ask for privacy, for time to ourselves. To let our partners know that we have a need they should respect and not take offense when we say, “You’re in my space”.
And checking off some items from our Bucket List
Our Maiden Voyage back in April was short and bittersweet, read more here. We then returned to Anacortes, where after a brief stint home we decided to try again and took to the road. This time it got off to a great start, read about it in our article, Airstreaming, Alpacas, and Sunsets.
We’re back home, again, after two months on the road, after traveling through four states (Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and Reno Nevada area.) We discovered twelve RV parks, some were fantastic (didn’t want to leave), a couple were so-so.
And when we entered Northern California in early June, we also hit temperatures over 90+, then over 100 or more by mid-June, lasting for over a month. When you are from Washington state (the west side of the Cascades) anything over 75 is considered hot. If we hit 80, we moan and groan and start to melt, so just imagine what happened when the whole PNW hit 100 degrees or more. I knew that I was finally adjusting to the heat, when I decided that 90 was considered cool after hitting over 100. :-)
With the heat upon us, our original trip plans took a detour and instead of going where the road took us next, we had to make more concrete plans and find RV parks with full hook-ups so we could run our A/C. In an industry, where RV parks are supposedly full and hard to obtain, I was worried it might prove to be challenging, especially with a holiday weekend in the mix (the 4th of July) but with some good research and calling around, we somehow managed.
We picked locations that interest us, especially for photography, and places we had never been to. We also needed to allow time in some locations to just relax, when we could get it we would stay for a week. RV Life is fun, but it can also be quite draining when you are moving too much or doing too many activities. We needed our down time. Plus we had a few loads of laundry to do here and there.
Though it wasn’t part of any plan, I suddenly found myself checking off things that were on our list of Someday (Bucket List.)
The first Someday - River Rafting - see the article Why Are Adventures Always Fun…Afterwards. This was on my Someday list, I just never thought I would be brave enough for that adventure.
The next Someday(s) - We ended up spending a lot of time in central and southern Oregon between Medford and Eugene, since we were there we decided to knock off two of our Someday items: Crater Lake and Oregon’s Covered Bridges, during the heat, these two items were great ways to cool down.
Mt. St. Helens
Our last Someday(s) on this trip, took place in Washington State. We spent a week in Kelso, WA. This is not usually a destination we would choose, but I chose it because it wasn’t normally a destination and it was a place we had never visited. It felt like a good place to have some great down time and it was. While there we finally ventured up to Mt. St. Helens, a Someday item that finally found its day. What a beautiful and scenic drive up to Johnson Ridge. We also wanted to attend a small town rodeo and on our last night in Kelso, the Cowlitz Fair started and so did the Thunder Mountain Pro Rodeo. It was fun and so entertaining, a great end to our final night on this journey. As a bonus - we found our first “Largest” item, right here in Winlock, WA
Due to the change of plans and having to find RV parks, most of the parks we found were along I-5. I soon called our trips, ‘the I-5 Shuffle’, I felt sometimes like all we did was go up and down I-5, especially in Oregon.
The rates in parks have gone up considerably for various reasons, even state parks, making our stays a little bit more pricey, but it was also during this time that I found I was more of a Glamping RVer (see my article What Kind of RVer Am I. At least that is what kind of RVer we were during these two months on the road.
But all of that is about to change…well, at least, slightly. Stay tuned.
We left Anacortes on May 20th and returned on July 23rd. We are home until August 12th, then it’s off to an even longer adventure…
May 20 - Midway RV Park, Centralia, WA
May 21- Wings and Prayer Alpaca Farm (Harvest Host) Amity, OR
May 22 - Meadows Estate Winery (Harvest Host) Oakland, OR
May 23 - June 1 - Turtle Rock Resort, Gold Beach, OR
June 1-5 - Bay Point Landing, Coos Bay, OR
June 6 - Yreka RV Park, Yreka, CA
June 7 - Chico Rice Farm (Harvest Host) Willows, CA
June 8-10 - Jackson Rancheria Casino, Jackson, CA
June 10-17 - Gold Ranch Casino, Verdi, CA
June 17 - Susanville RV, Susanville, CA
June 18-21- Yreka RV Park, Yreka, CA
June 21-26 - Seven Feathers Casino RV Park, Canyonville, CA
June 26-29 - Casey’s Riverside RV Park, Westfir, OR
June 29 - July 3 - Olde Stone Village, McMinnville, OR
July 3 - 9 - Seven Feathers RV, Canyonville, OR
July 9- 16 - Premier RV Resort, Salem, OR
July 16- 23 - BrookHollow RV Park, Kelso, WA
Read my reviews on Campgroundreviews.com
As we roam the roads and highways, looking for that next fantastic stop, keep track of our travels in our Airstream - Betty Jo