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Traveling with no regret

3 Styles of Camping: What Style Do You Prefer? — August 10, 2020

3 Styles of Camping: What Style Do You Prefer?

“Making memories one campsite at a time.  –Unknown

As we prepared to buy our RV, we dreamed of all the fantastic places we would go with our new equipment in search of adventure, rest, and space.    As we have started to plan, make reservations, and started exploring, we have discovered the importance of understanding what style of camping we prefer. So, what style of camping do you prefer?

When you started thinking about buying your RV, I bet you thought to yourself, “This is a cheap way for us to vacation as a family.”  We thought that too and it can be true and false! For today’s blog, I’m not addressing the cost of the actual RV and what seems like the endless gear that you will need (or want) to camp safely and comfortably.  Instead, we’re talking about where you’re going  when you pack up, hook up, and head out.  What type of camping are you comfortable with and how much are you willing to pay?   

Uplash/Airstream Inc.

Whether you are a full timer or a weekender, if you are on a budget, and let’s be honest, a lot of us are, you should know that the cost of camping can vary wildly and some factors, like the time of the year, location, or the type of camping you prefer can mean a campsite can be pretty pricey or maybe event free! Some of your considerations should be: how big is your rig?  Do you need water, electricity, sewer, and other amenities?  Where are you going and what do you want to do when you get there?  Do you like all the creature comforts of home or are you a minimalist seeking wide open spaces and a more basic, budget friendly (free) camping experience? And of course, for those of us who boarder posh and minimal, there are option for us as well.    

Types of camping

Boondocking/Dry Camping/Dispersed Camping:  The early settlers of the United States could be considered boondockers-in the extreme! They pulled over and camped where ever they could. Today, the boondocking style of camping means that you are going off grid and camping for free. Also known as dry camping or dispersed camping, boondocking means that you are self contained and not connected to resources like water, electricity, or sewer.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) allows campers to camp for free.  In most of these areas, you can stay for up to two weeks at a time.   The upside is that BLM land is in some of the most beautiful parts of the United States so you could end up camping in a campsite like no other and you could possibly be out there all by yourself or with a very few like minded folks that you can see across the landscape!  BLM land is also “off road” so there will not be paved roads and campsites.  This can sometimes mean muddy or rough terrain.  For this option, you have to consider if you can get in and out of an off road situation safely and you have to carry in all supplies that you will need such as water, gasoline for your generator or an enhanced battery or solar option for power, if preferred, and all other necessary survival supplies.  A grocery store or gas station is definitely not around the corner from these spots and it is also likely that you will have poor to no cell service and thus no internet service. 

Uplash/Rob Hayman

State Parks, National Parks & Harvest Host: State and National Parks are great options in which to camp.  For the State Parks we’ve visited, most sites are large and we often have a nice space between us and our fellow campers.  Virginia State Parks offer water and electricity with an off site dump station and very clean, well maintained bath houses.  State Parks and National Parks also offer great trail systems and are often part of an outdoor recreational system around bodies of water, mountains, natural sights of all types, or even beaches so the “entertainment” factor is typically about where you are rather than a resort feel.  For this option however, if you have a big rig, be aware that some of the older State and National Parks may not have sites large enough to accommodate you.  At 26 feet, we are not big but we have already found some State Parks that we won’t fit in!  Also, depending on where which park you are interested in, the more popular one fill quickly.  Some take reservations while other are first come, first served.  Some National Park Campgrounds offer water, electric, and sewer, while others do not.  Be sure to do your research so you are prepared. 

Harvest Hosts: If you like the idea of Boondocking but there is no BLM land near you, as is our case, Harvest Hosts is a membership that gives you access to a network of 1000 wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, museums, and other unique locations including golf courses that host RV’s on their properties.  This option gives you an overnight camping spot in a non-traditional setting for free with the expectation that you will support the business on the property.  Who doesn’t like a good wine tasting, scooping up some fresh produce, milk, eggs, or meat for dinner, or playing a round of golf?  The Hosts do not typically provide services that you would find at a campground so this is a boondocking option but a small number of Hosts do offer electricity or water.  This could be found on the Host’s information page which you would have access to with your membership.  You can use a generator but it is recommended to check with your Host first out of courtesy to them and any other HH members who may also be at the location. 

Uplash/Andrew Hunt

RV resorts, Private Campgrounds, Thousand Trails: You can choose to stay in a private RV Resort if you prefer to have more of the creature comforts.  Just know going in, you’re likely to pay a pretty penny for all the extras that are often offered such as elaborate pool facilities, shuttles to nearby attractions, equipment rentals, game rooms, events and entertainment, cable TV, and laundry facilities, to name a few.  Private resorts can and do set their own rates that often vary by season and those rates can be eyebrow raising for some.  In our experience, some private campgrounds mean tight quarters with your neighbors.  This is usually not an option we enjoy but it is a great option for fun family activities that are scheduled on the hour and a way to entertain your kids.  

Thousand TrailsThousand Trails is a membership campground company operating private trailer park and RV resorts.  The membership is a one time fee with annual dues.  When considering a Thousand Trails membership, considering how much you will use your membership would be recommended and where you want to go as well as where there are Thousand Trails locations.   

So, what style of camping do we prefer?  We like to get away from the everyday and we learned quickly, as weekenders, that we like to get into the woods and we prefer our space.  We have stayed in a campground in which we had neighbors within steps which we did not enjoy. We have quickly fallen in love with Virginia’s State Parks, finding them well maintained and in great locations.  We will be squeezing in with the crowds once in a while, knowing that to get where we want to go, that may be required.  We also have a Harvest Host membership that we plan to use for the first time very soon.  I’m sure that I’ll share that adventure with you too! 

Do you have a style of camping that you prefer?  I’d love to hear what style of camping you enjoy and why.  Regardless of the option you prefer, the important thing is that you choose what you’re comfortable with and that you have fun!

Virginia State Parks Campground Series: Chippokes Plantation State Park — June 13, 2020

Virginia State Parks Campground Series: Chippokes Plantation State Park

“I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world.” –George Washington

As a native Virginian and in my humble opinion, Virginia has great State Parks which highlight all of the features that make Virginia a great place to live, work, and play.  Virginia has so much to offer.  At sea level, we have long stretches of open beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and along the Chesapeake Bay.  A few hours away, we have the Blue Ridge Mountains that offer epic views, apples, hiking, mountain climbing, and ample opportunities for checking out local wineries and breweries of all sizes.   

As one of the original 13 Colonies, our state is full of history.  From Jamestown and the first settlements, Yorktown and the end of the Revolutionary War, to Colonial Williamsburg and all of it’s charms.  Our history even extends to the names of our towns that stem from the history brought to the United States from England such as Portsmouth, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, and Norfolk, to name a few. 

With our new RV up and running, we have taken it out twice and have fallen in love anew with our State’s parks.  Our intention is to explore as many of them in our RV as possible.   I hope to bring you along and share our adventures in the parks we visit.   

Chippokes Plantation State Park

Just under an hour from home, Chippokes Plantation State Park is one of the closest parks and best known to us of all the parks.  When we bought our RV in March, we took it straight to Chippokes for our very first camping trip and despite the Pandemic interrupting our fun, we have restarted our camping adventures at Chippokes again this month.  With Chippokes being so close to home, it has been a great spot for us to test our camping ability in our new equipment before venturing too far.  My husband has called these our “Shake down” trips.  

What is now Chippokes Plantation State Park was founded in 1619 by Captain William Powell, Lieutenant Governor of Jamestown, who lived in Jamestown settlement for 10 years.  The property changed hands many times and was willed to the State of Virginia upon the death of it’s last owners in 1967. 

The Colonial touches of Chippokes Plantation State Park

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Chippokes is noted for it’s continued agricultural production.  In fact, it is one of the oldest continuously farmed properties in the Nation and is home to Chippokes Plantation Farm and Forestry Museum.

Oceans of corn growing in the warm June sunshine take up much of the acreage of the park and continue to speak to the land’s purpose at it’s founding

Situated on the tidal creeks and the banks of the historic James River, Chippokes Plantation State Park has a lot to offer Virginians and our guests from out of state. 

Located in Surry, Virginia, and at currently 1,403 acres, the Park offers camping, cabin rentals, a swimming pool, a visitor’s center, trails, a beach, gardens, and a museum.  Also offered are costumed interpretations, guided hikes, workshops and ranger-led tours of the historic Jones-Stewart Mansion.   An active community park, there are annual festivals, canoe tours, hiking trails, fishing programs, and equestrian facilities.

Beautiful June Magnolias at Chippokes

The Park is easily reached from the Historic Triangle by the Jamestown-Scotland ferry or the James River Bridge.  We like it because of it’s close proximity to the Williamsburg area and the abundance of activities in that area. 

If you plan to visit the park for the day only, you should be aware that there is a parking fee charged year round at all Virginia State Parks and self-pay parking information is available at the contact stations. 

The Campground

The Chippokes Plantation State Park campground offers two rings of sites.  S1 through S18 have blacktop pads, offering water and electric.  These are “site specific” sites and require a reservation.  Sites S19, S21, S23, S25, and S27 are also site specific but do not have blacktop pads.  All other sites are first come, first served, and can be very uneven.  The park also offers three yurts by reservation. 

Comfortable for a week of camping at Chippokes Plantation State Park

The park is quiet, clean, well maintained, and a friendly Camp host has checked on us as we have checked in each time.  Park representatives are available and make regular rounds.  While we don’t need to use the bath house, we did check them and they are clean and well maintained.  Laundry facilities are also available. 

Be sure to check the website at www.chippokes@dcr.virginia.gov for additional information regarding fishing, swimming, fires, drone use, camping or cabin reservations, and a list of festivals and events in the park. 

You can also visit the Virginia State Park’s website at www.virginiastateparks.gov

Local nearby attractions linked by the Colonial Parkway and the Colonial National Historic Park

From Chippokes, a short Ferry ride drops you just short of the Historic Jamestown. 

Boarding the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry

The Colonial National Historic Park encompasses the  Jamestown Festival Park and the Yorktown Battlefield, two of the points of the Historic Triangle in our area and connected by the Colonial Parkway.   

Jamestown is the first permanent English settlement in North America, founded in May 1607.  

Yorktown is most famous as the site of the surrender of British General Charles Cornwallis to General George Washington and the French fleet that ended the American Revolutionary War in October 1781. 

Read more about the Colonial National Historic Park at www.nps.gov/colo/index.htm and the Colonial Parkway at www.nps.gov/colo/parkway.htm.

The third point of the Historic Triangle, and also along the Colonial Parkway is Colonial Williamsburg.  Williamsburg was the Capital of the Virginia Colony from 1699 to 1780 when it was moved to Richmond.  This is where General George Washington assembled the Continental Army in 1781 for the siege of Yorktown.  It is also home to the College of William and Mary.  The Colonial area and it’s buildings are worth at least a day’s visit with costumed interpretations of life during the time of George Washington.  Read more about Colonial Williamsburg at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org

Other attractions of note

Busch Gardens, Williamsburg

Water Country USA, Williamsburg

Sweethaven Lavender Farm, Williamsburg (plan your visit for the lavender bloom in May and June)

Great Wolf Lodge, Williamsburg

Yorktown Battlefield, Yorktown

Yorktown Victory Center, Yorktown

Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que, Williamsburg

And don’t forget to try local breweries and wineries in the area.  

Chippokes Plantation State Park is a great home base for campers who would like to be near the Colonial attractions without staying in the hustle and bustle of town and for a much more reasonable cost. 

We love the area and plan to be back again and again.

We hope to see you there or in one of the other Virginia State Parks soon!

Travel Addicts in Training; Practicing to be Perfect in our RV — May 18, 2020

Travel Addicts in Training; Practicing to be Perfect in our RV

We are finally preparing to head out in our RV at last!  Our State parks are about to open for camping and they have started taking reservations again so we snapped up some spots for June and July.   

In anticipation, we decided to go ahead and hook up and head out this weekend!  Where to?  Promise you won’t laugh!?  We took our new RV out to do some practice driving.  There.  It’s out there!  Commence the giggling!

While we are admitted Travel Addicts, we are also RV Newbies and with this new moniker comes some anxiety.  Our  trepidation is primarily around the chore of backing up our rig.  Having camped as kids we aren’t total newbies to the actual camping and as part of our pre-purchase research, we rented an RV to make sure that this was something we wanted to do. However, as kids, we didn’t drive the RV and our rentals were Class C’s which is a very different driving experience. 

Trying to back up in a straight line

We bought our new Grand Design Imagine XLS in March, just prior to being quarantined, so we only had time to squeeze in our first ever camping adventure before travel was put on pause across our State and Nationwide.  Right away, we discovered that backing into our driveway was going to be our biggest challenge.  Our driveway is a dog leg shape and not ideal for Newbies trying to back in our 26 feet plus the truck (we are not huge and happy about that).  When we brought our RV home for the first time to load up, we managed to get it backed in on the first try despite the awkward bend in the driveway and a few obstacles to be mindful of.  We know now, that this was just Newbie luck for sure.  Semi-confident in our new abilities, when we came home, we thought it wouldn’t be a problem.  This time, we got it in on what had to have been the 50th try!  This left us frustrated and with our newfound confidence totally diminished.  Not to mention, we found ourselves trying to figure out how to manage our future camping trips by NOT bringing our rig home from storage at all!

Since we didn’t feel assured in our skills as a team to back up, we went back to our favorite source of anything we want to know, YouTube. After watching “Keep Your Daydream‘s” episode on Sunday, May 10, we thought it was a great idea to take advantage of a bright, sunny day to find a large, unoccupied, unobstructed space in which to practice.  Appropriately, we used a high school parking lot in which to learn.  While our YouTube pros make it look relatively simple, we know that isn’t our reality behind the wheel right now.  So, armed with advice from the more experienced, off we went.

Now for those of you who might be RV veterans, I know you’re probably having a bit of a chuckle and thinking to yourself, “These two!”  However, I’m betting that in some point in your RV career, you might’ve scraped tree branches or come within inches of running over your spotter when going backwards.  Right?  I’m hoping those are the least of your mishaps! As newbies, we are very aware that even in our cars, going backwards is the most dangerous time and with an extra 26 feet to maneuver, we are taking some sage advice and making time to learn how our RV responds when we make the slightest of adjustments at the wheel.  Safety first.  And, with both of us having been musicians early in our lives, we know that “Practice makes perfect!” 

When we were done with our practice session, my Husband asked, “What did we learn?”  I suspect that he might’ve asked because he knows that our hijinks are fair game for my blogs these days but it was also a good question and a time for us to review together what we had learned.   So, what lessons DID we learn?

Getting it between the lines

Backing up is hard.  Even away from our awkward driveway, what would seem to be an elementary task of keeping the truck and trailer in a simple straight line takes practice.  While we really prefer pull through campsites, that is not always going to be an option.  Not to mention, backing into our driveway or our storage space is a necessity.  Going backwards is probably our hardest challenge and we know it will take patience and practice.

The steering wheel.  When backing up, it’s best to hold the 6 o’clock station of your steering wheel to turn.  If you want the back end of your RV to go left, point the 6 o’clock position to the driver’s side.  To go right,  point the 6 o’clock position to the passenger side.  I bet it sounds easy and pretty basic. I thought so too but it takes some practice to train your brain to remember this simple maneuver. 

Go slow and make small adjustments.  This is our new mantra.  First, this is not a race.  While we might hold up traffic and annoy our fellow campers, and for this we are eternally apologetic, there is no time limit in getting backed in.  Taking our time will prevent mistakes or an accident.  Small adjustments are key.  Whirling the steering wheel too far in one direction or another totally changes the trajectory of the back end of our trailer.  So, small adjustments are the way to go.

Perspective, team work, and trust.  This was our biggest lesson of the day.  First, I actually drove the truck with the RV in tow for the first time.  Honestly, it’s not as hard as I was anticipating.  Although, I am trying to remind myself that my first attempt to drive was in the empty parking lot of our local high school with no traffic.  In real life, I drive a zippy high performance machine and I have never pulled anything so my goal was to get a feel of the extra weight behind us and to understand where my new back end was and where I needed it to be.  Our truck may be a high performance machine in her own right but she is not zippy with that RV attached and rightly so! My lead foot will need to take a break!  While my plan is to let my husband do most of the driving, in my mind, it’s always a good idea for me to know how to manage our rig by myself in the unlikely event that I have to.  We also plan for me to be the backup driver when he needs a break so, at the minimum, I need to be comfortable in pointing the rig straight and keeping it all safely between the lines.   

As part of the whole lesson, I also practiced backing up.  THIS was where we both started to learn.  With my husband out of the truck and acting as my spotter for his first time, we learned how to speak the language of “backing up the RV.”  We learned that what the driver can see and what the spotter can see are two very different perspectives and for us, that included different focuses.  The driver and spotter need to be able to clearly communicate when in reverse and apparently, I was not giving the best of direction.  I was focused on where the trailer was and where it needed to be while Roger was focused on the truck.  We agreed that this approach would not work. 

When I was behind the wheel, he could see what I had been seeing and why I gave the directions that I did.  He now also understood how the truck needs to be maneuvered to get the trailer to be where we want it to be.  Now, as husband and wife, we also started to understand that there have got to be spouses or travel buddies out there who have had a few shouting matches over this particular part of their RV experience.  While we did not have said shouting match, we can totally see how that could happen.  The key for us was not to get frustrated with each other, listen, and talk to each other.  This meant learning to speak trailer.  A new language for us, for sure!  Now that both of us understand how to communicate left and right to each other, we have probably, saved our marriage and will likely enjoy our camping adventures for years to come!  Saying, “go left” or “go right,” for us, is no longer providing accurate direction.  Instead, we use, “driver’s side,” or “passenger side.”

After learning this, when we were done for the day, I was able to almost expertly get our rig backed into it’s storage space with the superb direction of my spotter. This last and final lesson of the day left us feeling like our time of practice was time well spent.  I know to trust Roger’s direction and carefully listening, along with going slow and making small adjustments got the job done. 

I can’t believe that I did it! (With my expert spotter)

“G.O.A.L.” and the multiple point turn.  From our YouTube friends we learned “G.O.A.L.; Get Out And Look.”  When we get to a campground this will be our go to maneuver before we ever put the rig in reverse and anytime we feel we need to assess the situation during the positioning process.  This practice starts as soon as you get to your campsite.  Every campsite is different so it’s wise advice for the driver and the spotter to get out and look together at the layout of the site before pulling in.  The purpose here is to scope out the campsite so you know where the hook ups are, where you might want to have your RV positioned to accommodate slides or for the optimal enjoyment, and to be on the lookout for obstacles like tree branches, picnic tables, or uneven ground.  G.O.A.L is also a highly recommended pause at any point in the back up process if the driver needs a first hand look at where he/she might be.  I think Roger would agree that he understands the premise even better after getting out of the truck while I drove.    

The first try might not be perfect.  I mentioned before that as the spotter, I was focused on the rear end of the trailer in hopes of getting it to where “X marks the spot.”  However, Roger needs the truck to be straight and lined up with the trailer to easily unhitch.  To achieve this, we learned that backing up our RV will not be perfect on the first try.  In fact, this means that pulling forward and backing up several times will eventually get us where we want to be, along with the small adjustments noted above.  We had to make peace with this new understanding.  Our favorite YouTubers even mentioned this in their recommendations as well so we feel like we came to understand that lesson clearly during out training session. 

We think we learn something new every time we hook up.   We try to move slowly, methodically, and check behind each other so we are sure that we don’t forget any piece of hooking up before moving our rig.  We are confident that we will get better with more practice.  Practice does indeed make perfect. 

We are counting down the days to be on the road again!  We wish you safety and pleasant travels.

**Note: For those of you who are avid fans of all things RV, these are some of our favorite families on YouTube that we follow and watch religiously.  We look to them for tips, tricks, ideas for places to add to the bucket list, and the reality of RV’ing: Keep Your Daydream, Less Junk More Journey, Finding Our Someday, Eat See RV, Embracing Detours, The Chick’s Life, Traveling Robert, and RV Lifestyle with Mike and Jenn.  There are a lot of others as well so check out YouTube for some great resources. 

We bought an RV! — April 9, 2020

We bought an RV!

“Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” -Winston Churchill

“BA” and “Blanche” together at last!

Do you have a something in life that you keep going back to over and over until you decide to take action?  Maybe you are thinking about something now?  Is it a dream vacation, starting a family, buying a house, moving to another state, getting a new job, a pool in the back yard, or maybe a fixer upper cottage on the beach or lake?  We all have something, no matter what it is, right?

We have had lots of dreams that we’ve worked to make reality and we are truly blessed! Our most recent dream? Buying an RV.  

After two years of shopping, researching, dreaming, planning, and watching our favorite You Tube RV families, we finally purchased our Grand Design RV at the beginning of March.

Blanche in her first campsite at Chippokes Plantation State Park

After two years of in depth study, we found what we wanted.  We knew where to get it, how much it would be, what we needed to get started, the whole thing.   We had even driven out to the dealership and lurked around when they were closed.  AND, to be sure we were going to like it, we rented an RV last fall and took a long weekend to make sure that we would like the camping thing. (We aren’t really new to the idea. We both camped with our families as kids so don’t worry about us too much!) You’d think we would’ve been ready, right?  HA!

When we finally made an appointment to talk to a salesman, before we left the house, the conversation was; “We’re not buying anything today.”  We agreed. 

I know what you’re thinking but bear with me!  Of course, when we got there, we had no questions.  We had seen our exact RV at the 2020 Florida RV Supershow in Tampa just a month before.  We knew everything there was to know.  We had no questions.  So, what was left?  That’s right.  I already spoiled the surprise in the title!  We bought an RV!

Okay.  Now.  Our someday finally came and three weeks after kicking things off, we picked up our new hobby and headed off on our first camping weekend.  It was scary, fun, terrifying, and we had a ball!  We are going to love it!  Wouldn’t you agree that some of the best things in life scare you death?

BA’s first pull. She finally knows her purpose!

Then a Pandemic outbreak brought the world to a screeching halt.  With our beloved Virginia State Parks closed, we have had two planned trips for April and May canceled.  So, back to dreaming we go!  It’s hard to make plans but we persevere.  At least this time, we are hopeful that we don’t have to wait another two years!  That is our short term.      

For us, the long term plan is getting out there to see the U.S. in our RV.  We have a bucket list of spots we want to go and now we have the gear that can get us up close and personal if we plan it right.   

Our thinking in all of this is that we want to be sure that we don’t wait for some day, until we have the money, or worse, until we retire and have the time.  The fact of life is, we are not guaranteed tomorrow.  We work hard, we save our money, we plan a trip and we go!  We go when and where we can.  We are blessed, that is for sure!  And while retirement might be the optimal time to travel, and we plan to keep going if we can, that season of our life is still a long way off! In the meantime, we will go when it’s safe to do so. #stayhome

So, for those that think we’ve lost our minds, I say, what is your dream and what are you doing about it?  Make sure you aren’t dreaming your life away.