February 18, 2019

Our Spring Travel Plans Went Right Out the Window

I feel awful.  Right after I posted a reminder to sign up for email delivery of new blog posts from Reflections Around the Campfire, I read that several other blogs were having problems with their Feedburner email subscriptions.  If you recently signed up for email delivery and are having any issues receiving new posts, please try unsubscribing and/or signing up again.  I do apologize for any trouble you are having.  That being said, my last post was published on January 30th, so if you haven’t received any new notices since then, it’s me, not you.  Life has been a bit hectic around here lately . . .

Around this time last year, Alan and I took a look at our camping map of the United States.  When the kids were young, we had printed off a basic map and started coloring in the states in which we had camped with colored pencils.  It’s not fancy and it’s not the type we would put up on the travel trailer; it’s just a simple map on cardstock that lives in one of our travel binders.  A good look at our camping map made it obvious that we really needed to make a concerted effort to visit some of our southern states, so we decided to make a loop through that area of the country, focusing mainly on the states between Florida and Texas.  Then I started planning our itinerary.

Because Alan and I are happy homebodies, I invest a lot of time and effort in finding campgrounds and campsites that best fit our preferences.  Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE being on the road, both literally and figuratively.  Traveling throughout this grand and glorious country is my passion, and Alan and I are both road trippers at heart so we enjoy the miles as they come and go through the windows of the truck.  But, at the end of the day, we look forward to a bit of rest and relaxation at a peaceful and unpretentious campsite amid the quiet beauty of our public lands.  I’m sure some would say I’m too picky but, honestly, the pleasure we get from waking up in campsites like these, enjoying our morning cups of coffee amid the birds, critters and gorgeous scenery is a huge part of why we camp.  And, so, we both believe that the time I spend planning is time well spent.

Initially, the planning for the 2019 Southern States trip went well; then, as the months rolled on, I started running into trouble.  One State Park that we wanted to get into no longer accepted reservations.  Another was closed for renovation.  A third was booked solid.  With other Parks, I could get a reservation, but not for any of the sites we had chosen.  I couldn’t figure out how to easily fit in a trip along the entire Natchez Trace.  We found out that Peg and Bill, good friends who live in Virginia, would not be available when we passed through their neck of the woods.  And then the Florida State Parks department cancelled our only reservation in that state because the campground at St. Andrews would remain closed longer than expected due to damage from a recent hurricane.  Still, I plodded on, hoping that I would eventually put a plan together that would not only satisfy us, but make us happy, as well.

There were a couple of bright spot in all of this.  One, we were able to get tickets to a performance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.  And to make the event even better, Kathy and Albert (church friends who had retired to Tennessee) would be able to join us at the Opry, too. Excellent!  Two, we were looking forward to overnighting at Twin Oaks RV Park in Elko, Georgia.  Back in 2009, I attended a Campground Buyers’ Workshop and had become acquainted with another attendee, John Heslup.  Despite the fact that we haven’t seen each other since the workshop, John and I have stayed in touch.  Although Alan and I never did buy a campground, John and his wife, Sue, did – Twin Oaks.  On this Southern States trip, we were planning to stay at Twin Oaks and were hoping we could catch up with John and Sue who live a couple of hours away from it.  Even with those two wonderful pieces of good luck, I was still having trouble nailing down the remaining details last fall.  Christmas rolled around, our itinerary was still not finalized and I was getting more and more frustrated.  And then, that fateful moment . . .

On Christmas Day, we found out that Anya (our son Ryan’s girlfriend of almost 6 years) would be graduating in May with her Master of Science in Education and state certification as a School Psychologist.  This is one extremely focused young woman who has worked diligently toward her goals since she entered college.  Not only is she full of spunk and ambition, but determination and perseverance, too.  We admire her greatly and love her to pieces.  When we started making our plans last winter, the date of Anya’s graduation never even crossed my mind and now, according to our planned itinerary, we would be four states away on her special day.  Not good.  Not good at all.

A few days after Christmas Alan and I were talking about our dilemma.  He (brilliantly) came up with the idea of swapping our tentative plans for the spring of 2020 with the Southern States trip scheduled for this year.  The Florida 2020 trip was a much more straightforward trip – we wanted to visit with Alan’s brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Joan, who live there.  And, although we’ve been to Florida a number of times, we have never been to the Everglades or the Florida Keys, so those stops were on the tentative itinerary, also.  If we switched the trips, that meant I would have to cancel all the reservations I had made for the Southern States trip.  And what about the Opry performance?  I can assure you that our minds were churning with dozens of “what if’s” and “could we’s.”  When we realized that we could still make it to Nashville in time for the Opry if we skedaddled right after Anya’s graduation (as in, maybe, as soon as the ceremony was over!), we threw the rest of our travel plans out the window and started from scratch.

We contacted Tom and Joan in Florida to see if they were going to be around on the dates we’d like to visit.  They said absolutely, come on down!  That was huge because if we weren’t going to be able to connect with them, Plan B would have fallen apart right there and then.  So, now that we were thinking Florida . . . Ever since we bought our first travel trailer in 2006, camping in Fort Wilderness at Disneyworld has been on my bucket list.  Yes, yes, I know.  That is the furthest you can get from a State or National Park and still be in the same galaxy.  While I’m not a huge Disneyworld fan, I have been there three or four times since I was a young adult and I’m fascinated by the way Disney markets and manages its businesses.  Fort Wilderness is, apparently, an incredibly large and well-designed campground and, hey, I just want to experience it for myself.  Alan had no objections and I started looking at the calendar to see if we could fit Disneyworld in – and they could fit us.  Yup, right there, just before our visit with Tom and Joan.  And look, there’s still enough time to stop at Twin Oaks RV Park on our way through Georgia!  A quick email to Peg in Virginia confirmed that the revised dates on which we’d be traveling through Virginia would work perfectly for her and Bill - they would be at home and available!  Wow!  This switcheroo thing was really falling into place nicely!

But now, what to do for the Keys?  On more than one RV travel blog, I’ve read that reservations for the Florida State Park campgrounds in the Keys open up a year ahead of time and sites are gone within moments.  Yikes!  It wasn’t even worth a try.  Or was it?  Figuring nothing ventured, nothing gained, I looked anyway with my hopelessly optimistic, rose-colored glasses on.  And there it was.  One single site was available at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park - a recent cancellation, for sure.  It happened to be a site we could fit in and it was available on dates that we could make work with a “minor adjustment.”  So, I booked first and juggled later.  If the availability of that site wasn’t a sign that this Florida trip was meant to be, I don’t know what was.  Years ago, while we were working through the long and frustrating adoption process to bring Kyra home, we kept a heart shaped decal front and center on our refrigerator door.  It read, “Miracles happen to those who believe in them.”  Amen to that.

Within three days, we had swapped trips, nailed down an itinerary, cancelled old reservations and made new ones.  We had a safe, comfortable place to stay every night we were on the road (including a pad with water and electric at “Tom and Joan’s Family Campground!”) and we would be able to spend time with family and friends in four states.  Plus, we’d have a chance for an encore visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame (our first was more than 20 years ago) and, in addition to crossing Fort Wilderness off my personal bucket list, we’d be able to add three more check marks to our National Parks list – Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park (both in Florida) and Cumberland Island National Seashore (in Georgia).  The icing on the cake?  Kyra, Ryan and Anya would all be able to join us at Disneyworld where we’ll be celebrating not just Anya’s graduation, but Kyra’s recent attainment of her barbering license (she had her cosmetology license in hand within a month of graduating from high school), and Ryan’s quarter century birthday which he’ll celebrate on one of the days he’s in Florida.

But wait.  Do you remember the “minor adjustment” I mentioned at the time I grabbed that campsite in the Keys?  Yes, well, due to the major change in dates when we swapped trips and the fact that the campsite at John Pennekamp State Park was only available for several specific days, when we leave the Keys we’ll be driving due north for two full days because . . . Our reservations at Great Lake Sacandaga begin the day after we leave Key Largo.  Looks like we’ll have to call the campground and tell them we’re going to be a little bit late.  Life is always an adventure.  And a pretty amazing one at that.

Thank you for making Reflections Around the Campfire part of your day - your visits are very much appreciated!


  1. Just reading this has worn me out! As a planner, you get the primrose medallion, Mary. I am not much of one, and life on the road is made ever so much more difficult by the proliferation of RVs in recent years--something near a half million units last year, was it? The number of campgrounds certainly hasn't grown to accommodate the glut, and that caused us to shorten our summer travel by a couple thousand miles two summers ago, so I feel your pain. Just waiting for you to hang out your shingle as a professional RV trip planner! I can see the sign now: "Mary, Queen of Stops." (Sorry)

    1. What a great moniker, Mike - you are just too funny! Right now, we're dealing with a large number of RV buyers combined with low gas prices. It will be interesting to see what happens when the market levels off and/or gas prices rise. Meanwhile, I'll keep on planning. I'm lucky in that I really do enjoy the planning aspects of travel, but I can understand how the current situation is frustrating for those of you with a more relaxed itinerary.

  2. Mary, my wife and I are currently pop-up and tent campers but after 30 years of that are moving up to a small 5th wheel in another year AND I'm retiring (for the second and final time then as well). So we are going to join that ever growing number of campers on the road. Like you we are planners. I actually found your planning efforts totally comforting as planning and logistics coordination is what I do for a living. I like to know what's awaiting me as much as possible. Then my wife and I can enjoy the adventure of exploring wherever we are without worrying about where we are living. Quiet, nature, solitude from too many people, these are all the things that we plan our camping around and we've been very successful around our Virginia State Parks (ranked number 1 in the nation for a number of years). We're enjoying your blog and look forward to reading more of your adventures in the future!

    1. Oh, Bob, you and I are birds of a feather! With a background like yours, it's no surprise that planning comes naturally to you. Alan and I started out tent camping (back in the day when one KOA would call the next one down the road to make a reservation for us) and only moved to a travel trailer in 2006. From personal experience, I'll go ahead and venture a guess that you'll be delighted with the extra room and comfort of your fifth wheel.

      Thanks so much for your comment and your kind (and very much appreciated) words. It always warms my heart when I hear from someone who enjoys riding along on our travels. Incidentally, one of the reservations I had to cancel was for North Bend, an Army Corps of Engineers campground on the John Kerr Reservoir in your home state of Virginia. I was SO disappointed, but I promised myself that we'll get there eventually. It won't be long before you and your wife will be enjoying your own epic journeys!


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