Updated: Mar 26
It’s been a busy week! We’ll start with another map update:
We spent six nights at Oak River Campground in St. Mary’s, GA, then turned north to begin our meandering journey home. It’s been a great week! I’ve been getting more work done, which satisfies that industrious part of my nature that wants to be active and “productive.” Here are a few of my studio set-ups from the last week:
I really enjoy making jewelry in my mobile studio. Depending on the time of day, I can set up outside at the picnic table in our site or inside at my desk (aka the passenger seat). On Thursday, I worked from my “desk” throughout the entire 5-hour commute to our current home for the week (when I wasn’t providing critical navigational assistance, of course!)
And one day last week (I’ve lost track of which day!), Steve brought out his guitar to play some music for me while I worked. That was fabulous!
We’re all really enjoying exploring the parks where we have stayed. Crooked River was an exceptionally lovely park. Located on the banks of “Crooked River” (aptly named, because it is indeed very crooked!), the park offers huge sites with electric and water hook-ups, amazing recreational activities for families, an outdoor gym, beautiful trails for walking, and more. I’ll post a separate blog entry with a full review of Crooked River State Park when time permits, but thought you might enjoy some of these photos.
While the scenic views at sunset from the edge of the river were stunning, my favorite place in the campground was on the Palmetto Trail, where the trail weaved through a seemingly endless landscape of saw palmetto plants shading the earth for the tall pines growing overhead, which in turn provided dappled shade for the saw palmettos. The reciprocal nature of nature in action … I love it!
Wildlife was plentiful at Crooked River as well! We had daily visits from an armadillo right behind our site, and saw large turtle of the box variety in front of our site. Stunningly beautiful birds and a wide range of butterflies were plentiful. I continue to collect photos for my future work in colored clay, which will feature wildflowers and butterflies I’ve encountered on our journey.
RV LIFE TIP - TRIP PLANNING 101 (v. 1)
We‘ve enjoyed truly beautiful state parks throughout our entire trip, and we’re both very pleased with our selections. But I’m not going to lie - it felt like a moonshot when we were planning this excursion! At first, we both held our breath when pulling into each new campground. No more! We’ve come to realize that each time we are going through a doorway into a wonderful new adventure!
We originally intended to spend the months of January and February in Florida to escape the cold, Pennsylvania winter. We were late to the game and learned that state parks in Florida book up a year in advance. Luckily, Louisiana worked out really well for us! The weather was not as warm as it would have been in Southern or even Central Florida, but we loved the parks where we stayed and saw a part of the country we hadn’t seen before. And their 50% discount to seniors (valid through 2023) was an added bonus!
We started the process of planning our trip with climate reports. We were escaping the Pennsylvania winter, after all! Once we identified regions where it seemed unlikely we would dip below freezing, we searched Google Maps for state parks in those locations and then hopped over to RV Life online to do some research.
Our Criteria for Park Selection
Individual Park Ratings: We shoot for 8/10 star ratings from previous campers, although a few of our parks had ratings just under that and they’ve all been fine.
Cell phone coverage and Wifi connectivity: To work on the road, I need to be able to connect to the internet, and Wifi is preferable to burning up all our plan’s data. Some parks have Wifi, but we’ve found it to be slow when the park is full. I’m sitting in a lovely Wifi Lounge overlooking the water at Santee State Park now!
Pet Policies: Although not a problem at state parks, some private parks have restrictions on pets, including exclusions for certain breeds, so be aware of this when making reservations.
Hook-up: While we prefer full hook-ups, we had only water/electric in many of our locations and that has worked out, too! (We keep finding ways to reduce our water consumption; at our last stop, we cut it back to just under 20 gallons of gray water over 6 days without the benefit of a camp dishwashing station!)
Comfort Stations: Because we have such a tiny bathroom, we use camp showers rather than our own. Clean showers are a necessity, hot showers are a bonus, and vault toilets are a hard no for me at this stage in my life!
Driving Distance: As newbies, we planned for 6-8 hours of driving initially, but in the future will change that to between 3 hours (preferably), and up to 5 hours (on days when we really need to cover some ground). Packing up camp takes time, and we rarely leave before 9AM. Stopping for groceries in between locations takes time, as does getting gas, hunting down propane, and giving the dogs some time to stretch their legs. We also want to arrive at our new site in daylight so we have ample opportunity to level up and set-up.
NEWBIE TIP! Use an RV specific GPS system to calculate driving distance and time, as opposed to GoogleMaps. We use RV Life, which gives us RV Safe directions based on our rig’s size and weight, and provides realistic driving times between stops.
The next step in our trip planning process was to visit each state park’s website to check for site availability. This step was tedious, as each state has their own reservation system and each park its own website within that system. Once you navigate that, the site selection process begins, and that takes tedious to a whole new level! I can’t tell you how many reviews I read and how many camper photos I perused to determine our best options. In all fairness, I may have gone a bit overboard on evaluating site options, BUT all of our sites have been positively lovely.
Our criteria for site selection:
Some space between sites to provide modest privacy when possible
A site large enough to allow us to keep Bandit and Oakley outside with us (Keeping our dogs with us 24/7 was our previous camp practice; we’ve changed that this trip and everyone is happier! I’ll write about that in a future post.)
A couple of trees for shade, and to provide a place to hang a dog runner and the hammock
Close proximity to the comfort station and dump where full hook-up is not available
We used park websites, Google Maps satellite imagery, The Dyrt, RV Life and any other resources we could find online to help us select specific sites that we thought would work for our rig, our dogs, and our set-up preferences. We often found photos of individual sites online, and sometimes we were able to actually walk through a park using street-level view on Google Maps.
It took 3 solid days to get the bones of our trip planned and the sites reserved. By the time I went back to reserve a couple of them, the sites were taken and I had to start over in that region. I kept meticulous notes, too, which was fortunate because when Steve’s retirement date changed (twice!), I had my prior research to fall back on and it took significantly less time to re-plot the trip.
WHAT WILL I DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
All in all, I figure it took about 5 solid days - sunup to bedtime - to nail down our 66-night trip. That’s a lot of time to invest, and I did it with my fast home-based internet connection and multiple screens. There’s got to be a better way!
Here’s what I’ll change next time:
I’ll start earlier! I’ll have a plan of where I want to go, pre-select some parks in the region, and know the reservation opening windows for those parks. This should eliminate some of that front-end work to scramble for parks, and also the back-end work finding suitable sites.
I won’t need to worry as much about “privacy” and the ability to place a dog runner in the site, which will open up a lot of possibilities. I’d still like to hang my hammock, though!
Starting earlier will also give me wider availability windows, so I’ll have less stops to align with one another. We can stay up to 14 days in most state parks. We’ve averaged about 8/9 nights on this trip and that has worked well because most of our parks have been small(ish). But packing up / setting up does take time, so I’d like to try a trip where we stay longer at larger parks where there’s plenty to explore over an extended stay.
I’ll be more chill about the whole thing, because every park we’ve been to has been wonderful in its own way. Even when a park isn’t “perfect,” we find beauty among the “imperfections.” In the end, each park has presented us with a relatively inexpensive way to travel with our pups, spend quality time together and in nature, and see parts of the country we haven’t seen before.
I’ll keep in mind that - even if a park selection is a total bust - it’s temporary! As with all things in life, it will change (and pretty quickly in the grand scheme of things).
I’d like to be the sort of person to just hop in Irving and go to wherever a site is available within our designated driving distance. Maybe one day I’ll get there … (sigh). If you’re a fellow RVer, I’d love to know more about how you plan your RV trips. Please share your insights in the comments below!
If you’re not already, follow #PotterOnWheels on social media, and find more posts and regular updates on my Instagram and Facebook pages (@SusanOHanlonPottery).
Thanks for joining us on our Grand RV Adventure! We’re so happy to have you along for the ride!
Susan (and Steve, Bandit & Oakley)
HEADS UP for those following our journey closely: We have a short stop in Myrtle Beach at the end of next week to visit with our grandson! I’m so excited to see Nathan, and I want to be able to treasure every minute of my time with him, so next week’s blog update will probably be late. No need to worry about us, as I’ll just be busy smothering my grandson in hugs and (if he’ll permit it) an occasional kiss or two!