March 19, 2023

A Brief Snowbird Adventure - Lessons From the Road

I’d like to extend a round of applause to all of you bloggers who somehow manage to post while on the road.  I truly can’t imagine how you do it.  I’ve often written posts ahead of time and set them to publish on future dates, but I’ve haven’t yet managed to draft and publish a post while we’ve been on the road and on the run.  This time, I went so far as to put my notes and photos on my laptop – and that’s as far as I got.  So, no post for the past three weeks and a well-deserved tip of my hat to those of you who are both road warriors and road writers.

Last year, Alan and I sold the second of two rental properties we owned.  For the first time since we had both escaped the workforce, we were truly free from responsibilities.  Winter travel had always been problematic for a variety of reasons, and this new-found freedom allowed us to enjoy the festivities of the Christmas season in both Pigeon Forge and Nashville, Tennessee, early in December.  Just recently, it also allowed us to escape the cold winter weather that plagues our area of the northeast.  In happy anticipation of wearing shorts and t-shirts, we set out to visit Alan’s brother and sister-in-law, Tom and Joan, in Florida.  We tacked on a few days in Savannah, Georgia, and a few more days on Chincoteague Island in Virginia, and we were looking forward to our first adventure as snowbirds.  Wow!  Did we learn a lot!

Despite offers of lodging from Tom and Joan, as well as from a childhood friend of Alan’s, we decided to “hotel it” on this trip.  Having our own space would allow us to maintain our personal schedules without impacting those of our hosts.  Venturing forth with our travel trailer during the winter is impossible.  The gravel pad it calls home is up the hill behind the house.  Getting the trailer down to the driveway requires a dicey swing around a curve between a clump of birch trees and a small embankment.  Easy enough for Alan to do on dry, solid ground, but extremely dangerous when the path is slick with mud – and impossible when there’s any snow on the ground.  So, hotels it would be for this expedition.

Uh-oh.  Maybe it's best that we left the trailer at home.

An impending snow storm had us scrambling to leave a day early.  Alan wanted to give his Camaro a good run and we knew that the low-slung sports car would not play well with inches (and potentially feet) of snow.  If we managed to get out of Dodge a day early, then all we would have to do was hope and pray that we could get back in a couple of weeks later.  While we were away, our daughter, Kyra, would need to plow the driveway with Alan’s sub-compact tractor.  If she had difficulty, our son, Ryan, who lives about 40 minutes away, was the on-call backup plan.  With fingers crossed, we headed down the mountain, and settled in for a few long days of driving.

A work in progress - even her big brother said she did a good job.

Back in the days when we were young and invincible, Alan and I made the drive to Florida’s beaches without overnighting on the way down or back.  With age, comes wisdom.  And fatigue.  And stiff joints.  We had planned to make this a two day drive – two long days, for sure, but the purpose was to visit with family and friends in Florida, not to sightsee on the way.  Our early departure transformed our southbound trip into a three day jaunt, only because I (selfishly) didn’t want to cancel and re-book all of our hotel reservations.  Single night hotel stays in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia were followed by three nights in Florida, three nights in Savannah and three nights on Chincoteague.  It didn’t take many nights of schlepping our one suitcase, bathroom bag, plug-in cooler and gear bag (for our camera, electronics, chargers, first aid kit, winter hats and gloves) in and out of hotel rooms for us to come to the same conclusion:  We missed our trailer!

 “I googled my symptoms.  Turned out I just needed to go camping.”

                                                                     ~ Unknown

The first thing we learned is that we really missed our trailer.  We missed our own bed, our own bathroom, our own food in the fridge, and the many amazing views we’ve seen from the windows of “The Lodge,” as we affectionately call our travel trailer.  The parking lots and cityscapes outside our hotel room windows were not at all inspiring.  We missed the once in/once out schlepping of food, gear and clean clothes that RVing allows.  And we missed having a clean bathroom at our disposal when we needed one, any time of day and on any given stretch of road.  We learned that RVing has spoiled us.

Although Alan’s Camaro really is much roomier than it appears, we were pretty much jammed in with all of our “stuff.”  Sometimes, I find my OCD tendencies to be extremely helpful, like when trying to pack a sports car for a two week vacation.  With “precision packing,” we managed to fit in: one very large suitcase (that took up much of the trunk), a jumpstart battery, a plug-in cooler, a smaller cooler (the “kitchen”), Janitor in a Drum, Mr. Coffee in a box, a beach bag, our gear bag, my laptop, two gallons of fresh water, winter coats, spring jackets and a full-size box of tissues.  You had to be a contortionist to reach anything, but it did all fit.  Not too shabby for a car with one and a half cup holders.  And you think I’m kidding. 

The second thing we learned (the hard way), is that not all properties in a particular hotel brand are safe, comfortable and well-managed.  We pretty much stick with the Choice Hotels brand and, within that brand, tend to favor suites at Comfort Inns, Sleep Inns and MainStay Suites.  We could easily spend more for a Marriott or a Hilton hotel, but we choose not to.  We don’t spend a lot of time in the hotel room and, as long as a hotel offers clean rooms, pleasant and helpful staff and a safe environment, it doesn’t take much to make us happy.  Rather than spend our travel dollars on a more expensive, higher-level hotel brand, we choose to spend our money elsewhere.  Like at the car wash.  More on that later.

A must-stop on every girl's dream vacation

On this trip we ran into two extremes with our Choice Hotels.  The MainStay Suites in Savannah was the worst hotel we’ve ever stayed at, hands down.  I can’t say enough bad things about this place.  Actually, the only good thing I can say is that it had an exceptionally spacious and absolutely lovely breakfast area with a fireplace, a variety of seating and sweet views of the courtyard.  We should have stayed in the breakfast area.

The rooms were recently renovated.  Allegedly.  The bathroom door didn't even close, much less lock.

First off, at check in, the young woman at the front desk continued her work-related conversation with a co-worker when I stepped up.  I would have had no problem waiting until they resolved their issue, but the front desk clerk (the person who can easily make or break your experience from the start) didn’t look at me, raise a finger in a “just a minute” gesture or acknowledge me in any way.  This didn’t set well with me at all since Alan and I are big believers in excellent customer service.  It was all downhill from there.  When we reached our room there were no hand towels, no lights over the kitchen area, no lights over the only table/work space in the suite, long curtains that covered the heating and A/C unit (we had to bunch them up and stuff them on top of the unit to expose the air vents), and the person who decorated it must have been an interior design school dropout.  The most serious issues, though, related to safety and accessibility.  The front desk, as expected, was immediately inside the centrally situated front doors.  The only elevator was near the back left corner of the building, hidden in an alcove.  Really?  Someone actually designed a hotel with the elevator just about as far away from the front doors as you can get?  The safety issue was more concerning.  Alan, who built our home and has fixed just about every single thing I’ve broken during our 40+ years of marriage, started inspecting the door frame and realized that the auxiliary safety lock, one of the little flip-out square pieces of metal, was not properly secured.  On a whim, he set the auxiliary safety lock and tried to open our hotel room door.  As he suspected, the auxiliary lock didn’t hold, and it was easily pushed to the side when he pushed the door open.   (Laugh if you will, but this, people, is why I always carry bear spray.)  Could we have asked for another room?  Yes, certainly.  At this point, though, I wasn’t in any mood to deal with the desk clerk, we weren’t in a section of town that engendered safety concerns, and we had the feeling that another room wouldn’t have been much better.  But you can be certain that I’ll be providing the corporate office with a complete report.  In closing, let’s just say that we agreed with the two guests we met (one of whom was disabled) who were lapping the first floor trying to find the elevator.  Upon seeing us for the second time, the Mrs. exclaimed, “Never again!”

Do you see a red "You Are Here" dot marking our room?  Neither did we.

At the other extreme, I can’t say enough good things about the Comfort Suites Bayfront Resort in Chincoteague.  I had originally planned a single night layover at this hotel on our return trip home, and I was ready to book a small suite with one king bed.  While perusing the list of available rooms, I noticed “the Presidential Suite.”  The suite was one very large room with a king bed, a fireplace, a full kitchen and a jacuzzi tub.  In addition, there was a nicely-sized vestibule with a walk-in closet and a large bathroom with a double sink.  What really tugged at my heartstrings, though, were the views from the windows.  The suite was situated on a corner of the hotel, with a wall of windows on each of the two outer walls.  The views of the bay were amazing, even in March.  As outdoor enthusiasts and long-time boaters, the suite and its location would be a perfect fit for us.  Okay, so the price tag was amazing, too.  Even so, I wiped the drool from my face and showed it to Alan.  “Book it.”  Hmmm, apparently he has heartstrings that get tugged once in a while, too.  Keep in mind, that we were visiting Chincoteague Island in the off season.  I could never, in good conscience, pay $400.00+ per night for this room during the summer.  However, the off-season rate of $205.00 per night that included a 15% discount for a mid-week stay of three or more nights was doable.  And so I did it.

We figured that the suite must have totaled nearly 800 square feet.

Our experience at the Comfort Suites Bayfront Resort in Chincoteague was the polar opposite of our experience at the MainStay Suites in Savannah.  At check in, I found the front desk staff to be charming and helpful.  Other staff members (the maintenance team and the women who managed the daily hot breakfast) always smiled and spoke to us.  Lots of smiles, lots of eye contact.  Omigosh, could it be?  Excellent customer service?!  Our suite was tastefully decorated, and photographs and paintings of local scenes brightened both our room and the walls and hallways of the hotel.  The hand of a strong manager was present, and every member of the staff was very obviously proud of their property.  We decided we would love to come back in the summer when boaters were out plying the waters of the bay and the temps would allow for lounging on our balcony or the hotel’s sun deck,  So, we asked at the front desk if we could see a couple of the other suites.  A member of the front desk staff, who had been with the hotel for 23 years, showed us two of their other suites. Each of the suites was gorgeous with beautiful views of the bay.  Alan and I might still lust after the Presidential Suite, but we agreed that we’d be perfectly content in one of the other nicely appointed suites.  While chatting with the Guest Services Supervisor at the front desk after our “tour,” she shared a special “returning guest” discount code with us that could be used during a future stay.  The icing on the Customer Service Cake came just a couple of days ago, when a postcard arrived from the “Comfort Suites Team,” expressing their pleasure at having us stay with them, their hope that we had a great time, and their invitation to come back and visit soon.  Nicely done.  You can bet that corporate will get a complete report on this property, too.

Sunset from the balcony of the Presidential Suite

The third thing we learned is that not all National Parks have the knack to push our “WOW!” buttons.  We ended up with a bonus day when we left home one day early to escape the grip of the impending snow storm.  Congaree National Park happened to be on our route south, so we booked a hotel room in nearby Columbia, and we spent some time exploring the Park.  After visiting for just half a day, we quickly decided that Congaree was a “one and done” Park for us.  To be fair, the big draw of this park is the ability to enjoy it from the water, and canoeing and kayaking are popular activities.  Problem #1: I don’t kayak with alligators.  Problem #2:  Any Park that has a particular month that the Park Rangers refer to as “Snake Month” is not really a place I’d like to spend a lot of time.  (FYI, according to the staff at Congaree, April is Snake Month, people.  Read and heed.)  Therefore, one and done.  We’re happy we visited, we’re happy to cross it off the list, and we’re happy we don’t have to go back.  That being said, to each his own.  If any of you are into gators and snakes, please, have at it.

The fourth thing I learned is that, if you’re traveling with a car enthusiast, you’re going to be spending time at the car wash – even on vacation.  I actually had to go through two car washes on this trip.  (Full disclosure:  I like going through car washes because we hardly ever do.  There’s something about taking a shower without getting wet that I find amusing.)  Alan has terribly high standards, and he prefers to maintain our cars on his own.  This, I suppose, would explain why he said, “I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” as we entered one of those two car washes.  As shotgun rider, I found myself responsible for identifying the car washes in whatever city we were in and checking the reviews for them.  Not only that, but we actually had to scope out the car washes before we used them.  (Have I mentioned that Alan really knows how to show a girl a good time?)  After scoping out a car wash in Kingsland, Georgia, Alan took note of the long line which seemed to confirm the many good reviews I read.  The next morning, just before we hit the road, we visited that car wash.  Again, we were met with a long line – and this was at, maybe, 8:30 in the morning.  I’m thinking that this place must be really good.  Then, when we were just a few cars away from our turn, the car wash broke down.  Thank heaven it didn’t happen when we were inside because, if Alan was terrified for his car before he went in, I can’t even imagine what his reaction would be if it got stuck in there.  So, it was on to choice #2 but, alas, he wasn’t satisfied with the cleaning job, and we ended up finding yet another car wash later when we reached Savannah.  And then, there’s this:

The last (and most important) thing we learned is that when we combine visits with family members and friends with our travels, those experiences never fail to enrich our lives.  Okay, well, we already knew that, but this trip confirmed it yet again.  The last time we visited Alan’s brother and sister-in-law at their home in Florida was back in 2019.  Although Tom was able to make it to our son’s wedding last summer, Joan wasn’t, so we hadn’t seen her in almost four years.  This family gets along famously, and time spent with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law is always filled with serious catch up, family stories and lots of fun and laughter.  During our visit, we were treated to their warm hospitality, lots of attention from their two Pomeranians and perfectly grilled tomahawk steaks.  Even though it’s not a hotel property, I’d have to give this place and its “staff” an A+++ in excellent customer service!

A plaque on our kitchen wall advises that “Friends are the best collectibles.”  This trip included catching up with friends from all different walks and stages of our lives.  First, we met up with Laurel and Eric as we passed through Gainesville on our way to Tom and Joan’s.  Laurel authors Raven & Chickadee, a blog to which you can always find a link in my list of favorite blogs in the column at the right.  After getting to know Laurel in cyberspace via our blogs, good fortune rained down on us when I realized that she and Eric would be in Gainesville as we passed through on our way south.  They agreed to meet for lunch, and suggested the 4th Avenue Food Park.  Or, at least, Laurel agreed to meet and may have just dragged poor Eric along for the ride.  Alan and I had an absolutely delightful time with these fine folks, enjoying good food and even better company.  Our time together passed way too quickly, and I do believe we continued our journey having just collected two new friends.

Laurel and Eric in the delightful Biergarten at Fehrenbacher's Artisan Saugase in Gainesville

As fate would have it, a childhood friend from the neighborhood in which Alan and his siblings grew up has a home only about 40 minutes away from Alan’s brother and sister-in-law.  When I reached out to Sidney to find out if she and her husband, Jerry, would be around during our stay, Sid not only jumped at the chance to get together, but invited Tom, Joan, Alan and me to lunch at their lovely home.  Sidney’s family moved from the neighborhood when Alan was in his teens, so this friendship goes back decades.  It’s difficult to come up with words that would provide an apt description of the energy shared among the three former neighbors.  Sid is a live wire; her husband, Jerry, is such a nice guy; and my sister-in-law Joan is an absolute sweetheart.  Alan and Tom are both mechanically-minded and get along fabulously and I, as Alan likes to tell me, am a piece of work.  Putting those six personalities in one room with half of them bringing up memories in rapid-fire succession made for great entertainment and much fun and laughter.  This could have gone on for hours – and did.  Sid said later that, even after we left, she was remembering more and more stories to share.  With luck, we’ll be able to connect with Sidney and Jerry again when they’re up in New Hampshire later this year.  Fingers crossed!

That's Sidney, having too much fun with Alan and me!

On our way from Tom and Joan’s to our miserable excuse for a hotel in Savannah (Oops, did I say that?!), we stopped to have brunch with our friend, Pat.  Pat and I have been friends since high school and, let me tell you, high school was a l-o-n-g time ago.  In fact, it was so long ago that I remember Pat’s neighbors cutting in on the party line her family shared with them whenever we were involved in one of our “girl talks.”  (If you don’t know what a party line is, you can ask your grandparents.)  Her marriage to Jack was the first among our high school crowd, and Alan and I were delighted to attend.  I can still see Pat in her big, beautiful hat – that matched her big, beautiful grin – as she and Jack exited the church that day.  Sadly, Jack passed away almost seven years ago, but Pat remained in the same area of Florida.  We try to meet up with her whenever we travel through her neck of the woods – proof positive that time and distance do not necessarily separate one friend from another.

One bonus lesson I learned . . . When you draft a blog post that’s three miles long, you have to talk about what you actually did on the trip in a subsequent post.  Coming up next, our adventures in Savannah and Chincoteague.



  1. A few thoughts that you will probably agree with: posting while on the road was always a crap shoot for us. In too many campgrounds, WiFi seemed to be an afterthought. If close enough to the main building, the signal was decent because the people who ran the place needed a solid connection. Find yourself in spot 73 over the hill, good luck.

    Hotel standards are so dependent on the local franchise owner. Like you, we assumed a Comfort Inn is a Comfort Inn. Not true. While the national chain has random inspections, they must not be very frequent; We had a "Savannah" followed by a "Chincoteague," then another "Savannah." After comparing reviews and doing a little digging, I determined that a single-owner's hotel is likely to be much nicer than a franchisee who has a bunch of them.

    Our National Parks are our greatest national treasure, bar none. With a Senior Pass bought back when they were $10, this is the gift that keeps on giving. Too many people utilize the dozen most popular parks but never explore the hundreds of parks, monuments, and wildlands that never disappoint.

    Welcome home (and there are some good car washes near us when we see you in the fall!)

    1. Yes, excellent observations, Bob! In reference to the hotel debacle, that MainStay Suites is currently rated just 2.6 out of 5 stars on the Choice Hotels website. I never book any hotel with less than a 4 or 5 star rating unless it's the only property available - which is very rare. So, something is up there, too, but I have no clue as to what it might be. The only thing I can think of is that the property's recent transition from a Clarion hotel didn't go well.

      Alan missed the $10 National Parks senior lifetime pass by just a short period of time. Even at the higher rate of $80, it's a gift. We just used his pass on this recent trip, since we visited Assateague Island National Seashore. We often take advantage of the 50% discount on camping fees at federal campgrounds it allows us, too. We've enjoyed many gorgeous campsites for well under $20 a night. As you said, the pass (as well as our National Parks) is a gift that keeps on giving.

      Let's keep that car wash info between you and me for now; otherwise, we might find ourselves meeting at one instead of at a nice restaurant!

  2. Wow, you've been busy! I'm so happy that you were able to connect with Laurel and Eric. I just read her post and it looks like good times were had. I'm sorry about your negative hotel experience. The staff (and, probably, it starts with the manager) can make or break a stay. I'd love to visit Savannah again sometime so I'll keep your experience in mind (that's about the level we like to stay in too).

  3. Busy on the trip, yes. And just as busy when we got back. The northeast was hit with another snow storm the day before we returned home. Kyra plowed enough to get herself out to work and us back home, but then Alan spent several days pushing the snow back on the property to make additional room for the 12+ inches we got two days after we got home. We were ready to turn around and head back south. The timing for meeting up with Laurel and Eric was absolutely perfect - we happened to be passing through Gainesville shortly before they were moving over to Cedar Key. As the saying goes, a good time was had by all!

  4. Mary, The last time we traveled without our trailer, I promised it would be a long, LONG, time before I would do it again. Those who do not know the RV lifestyle probably wouldn't understand, but there simply is no better way to travel by car. I've heard from Laurel and she was so glad to visit with you and Alan. All things considered, it looks like your trip was a good one and I enjoyed reading about it. Have a great week and please stay in touch. Joe

    1. Joe, we took our first month-long cross-country trip with the kids when Ryan was 13 and Kyra was 8. A blip in our schedule pushed our return home out a day. We asked the kids if they were okay with another day on the road, and let them know that we'd push on through if they were homesick. I've never forgotten Ryan's response: "Why would I be homesick? This IS home." He really nailed it. Imagine that - words of wisdom from a 13 year old. We had tons of fun with Laurel and Eric! They had selected a perfect place to meet up, and I think we were probably there for a couple of hours. Perhaps there's a rendezvous with all six of us in our future?

  5. Mary, we had SO much fun with you and Alan! That couple of hours went by far too quickly. We're looking forward to more time with you two, hopefully sooner rather than later. Let's make a plan!

    I was laughing throughout this you know, I am in complete agreement with your assessment that RV travel is the best form of travel. It really spoiled us. I miss having our "home" with us wherever we go, I miss our clean and organized trailer, I miss the convenience of our kitchen and bathroom (it's a pain to figure out lunch stops now!). After a couple of our recent Airbnb experiences I started thinking a hotel might be better, but from your report it sounds like that's just much of a crapshoot as Airbnbs are! I wish Alan was here to fix the electrical socket in the bathroom in our current Airbnb that is being held together by the nightlight that's plugged into it. It's hard to describe, but definitely not up to code. 😳

    1. While your eventual move to North Carolina won't quite put us within spitting distance of each other, our relative positions will be much more conducive to get-togethers than if you were still living in Florida. Yay!!!

      Alan has a t-shirt that says, "That's what I do. I fix stuff and I know things." Mr. Fix It's eyes widened in dismay when I told him about your electrical outlet. I'm pretty sure that means you'd better say something to the landlord. ;)

      Our one and only experience with an AirBnB was an extremely positive one. Kyra had enrolled in the American Barber Institute in New York City, and we needed to find her a place to live for about 6 months. No one is going to rent an apartment in NYC with a 6 month lease, so we turned to AirBnB. We found a sweet little apartment north of the city in Yonkers. It was in a quiet neighborhood near the train station. Kyle, the landlord, was SUPER, but I decided I wasn't a big fan of the whole AirBnB process and the costs associated with it. I like the speed and ease with which I can book (and cancel and re-book) hotels on the various brands' websites. If you ever need a place in Nashville, take a look at the MainStay Suites in Brentwood. It's in a business park - very quiet at night and fairly close to Amerigo's (a favorite restaurant), but not far from Nashville proper. We loved it! Not as much as we loved the Presidential Suite, but we'd still go back in a heartbeat. And probably will!

  6. Traveling by car...staying in hotels...cowabunga! I'm not sure we would know how to do that. It just occurred to me that we have not spent a single night in any place other than Phannie for seven years, not counting a Hawaiian cruise a few years ago. I still recall the separation anxiety; excuse me while I find the Xanax.

    1. Hmm, now you have me thinking, Mike. We purchased our first travel trailer in 2006, and I don't recall any hotel stays between that time and the fall of 2019 when we drove to Virginia Beach to celebrate our anniversary. I'll have to ask Alan if he remembers any. While hotels are definitely not my first choice, I do admit that it was a treat to get away to sunshine and warmer temps during the winter. The fact that someone else preps breakfast at no additional cost is a bonus. But then there are all the other restaurant meals that impact our budget and our waistlines. Yikes! Yes, we definitely missed our trailer!


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