What a year! Having shifted from The Big Kahuna to a modern RV in late 2015, we managed to spend a LOT more of 2016 actually RVing rather than sitting in mechanics parking lots or staying in hotels or the houses of friends and family. After wintering in Key West we hit the road for a counter clockwise tour of the eastern half of the country, basically trying to see all the states we missed during the previous year’s clockwise route through the west. Here is a summation of our travels, heavy on statistics and with our favorites and least favorites in the second half.
The Distance: 9,999 miles! More than 4,000 less than 2015, partly because we decided to slow our pace, but also because stuff is just closer together in the east compared to the western half of the country. This year we tended to linger in favored areas, especially Maine and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The Places: The short version: We visited 27 states while living in the RV for 332 days. We spent another 31 staying with family or friends, along with 3 nights in hotels. That is a huge change from 2015 when our mechanical problems had us in hotels for weeks on end. Breaking this year down by places and days:
- We visited 92 places this year, though if you discount repeat visits it was only 77. That includes 25 private parks, 4 national sites (national recreation areas and forests,) 12 state parks, 11 municipal/city/county parks, 11 military campgrounds, the houses of 6 different family and friends, 6 parking lots or driveways of stores, friends, or family, and 2 hotels.
- Breaking things down by days: we stayed in private RV parks for 102 days, military campgrounds for 78, national/federal areas for 6, state parks for 45, county/city/ municipal parks for 81, parking lots and driveways for 20, houses of family and friends for 31, and hotels for 3.
- Compared to 2015 there was a big decrease in national and private areas and a big increase in county and military facilities.
- We also slowed the pace a bit, though not as much as we anticipated. After compensating for 2015’s reduced RV days due to mechanical issues, our average length of stay rose from 2.7 up to 4 days per stop in 2016.
- Another way of looking at the 332 days in the RV: we had full hook ups for 114, at least electricity for another 149, and dry camped for 69.
- Together we made only one significant side trip this year, to visit my dad and step mom in Brown County, Indiana. Rosemarie made two independent trips to see her family in Coral Springs, FL and Norfolk, VA. I took a solo journey to Charleston, SC to pick up The Big Kahuna and get him down to a storage place in Florida.
The Money: We squeaked by barely under budget this year, a big improvement over 2015 when we were 12% over. Three things made the difference: we transitioned to a daily accounting system rather than the loosey goosey monthly round up we had been living by, we sold jewelry at farmers market/yard sale/flea market events in three states, and we no longer had the continuous repair bills associated with The Big Kahuna. We really feel good about how we managed things in 2016, and 2017 has started out solidly for us as well.
The Markets: This really added to the adventure this year, in both financial and quality of experience terms. We started 2016 with four little yard sale/craft fair type events on the Key West Naval Air Station, each one a little better than the last as we learned the ropes and improved inventory. After a five month gap travelling up the east coast, we stumbled across the weekly farmers market in Grand Marais on the upper peninsula of Michigan. Our modest success at three consecutive markets there along with astounding luck (though also a day of not so good luck) at a nearby Marquette event convinced us to incorporate farmers market-type vending opportunities into our research and route planning. Since then we have sold at three different markets in Wisconsin, a community wide yard sale near Ocala, repeat visits to two different events in Naples, a couple of terrible events in Mt Dora, and three different markets in Central Florida for a total of 25 events in 2016.
The Big Kahuna: We are finally back to being a one motorhome family! I changed up sale tactics shortly before Christmas, encouraging best offers rather than hoping for a competitive bidding war on eBay, and after rejecting several low ball bids we negotiated a sale price I can live with just before the new year. A few days into 2017 I few back to Central Florida to make the final exchange, and the new owner is already deep into his own improvements on the old bus up in Tallahassee.
The Discounts and Clubs: I mentioned in the 2015 Review that we were looking to cut our discount and travel clubs down this year since several were redundant or of limited value. What we kept, what we discarded, and why:
- National Park Pass ($80): KEPT! This was a big money saver in 2015 when we visited 21 National Parks, but this last year we only went to three plus a couple of National Forests, so the annual fee might not have paid for itself yet. But it doesn’t expire until May, and we anticipate hitting a couple more places that the pass will get us into free before then. Most of the parks and some of the national recreation areas, monuments, and historic sites have entrance fees ranging from $5 per car to $10 per person. I suspect it will end up having been a decent investment by the time it expires, and given our 2017 plans we fully intend on renewing it.
- Passport-America ($39): KEPT! We stayed at private RV parks on the 50% Passport-America discount for 55 nights! Now, I don’t think every place truly saved us 50% compared to what we could have gotten in other nearby parks of equal quality, but even if its only a 25% saving, it was the best program of the year for us by far, and more than worth the $39 annual fee.
- Good Sam ($25), Family Motor Coach Association ($50), and AAA (at least $60, more for each additional family member covered): DROPPED! We allowed all of these to expire this year, and don’t regret it. Typically they each provide a 10% discount in participating parks, and here is why that would have made little sense for us this year: we stayed 102 nights in private parks; 55 of those on the PA rate, another 21 on a weekly discount rate (about 14% off,) 3 nights on a 10% military discount, 2 nights at 10% off for our AAA membership before it expired, and 20 nights at full rate in parks that offered no applicable discount for any program. Simply put, there was no reward for shelling out annual fees to Good Sam, FMCA, or AAA when the Passport-America, weekly, and military discounts exceeded or matched what they could offer for all but two nights of the year. As for AAA’s roadside assistance; it was redundant with our insurance and EasyCare RV warranty policies.
- Active Advantage ($65) DROPPED! We tried this out for a year, and it paid for itself, but only just barely and with too much difficulty. For RVers, the program is associated with the Reserve America reservation system, and will refund your fourth reservation with them, up to a maximum of $80. Not every fourth reservation, just your fourth one within the year. So ostensibly it will give you a $15 benefit, so long as your fourth reservation cost you at least $80. I had to phone and email with them a couple of times to actually get the reward, which came in the mail weeks later. Too much hassle for too little benefit. We let it expire at the end of 2016.
- Moose Lodge ($60, $35): KEPT! Membership runs 60 and 35 bucks a year for me and Rosemarie, respectively. We parked for free in Moose Lodge lots two nights this year, so obviously that’s not the prime reason to maintain membership. Rather, it is the local connections in many of the towns we visit, the very affordable drinks compared to for profit bars, and the occasional special event. We have visited more than 20 Lodges across the country, and feel like we have benefited greatly from our membership, especially in Maine. I would encourage any RVer doing significant travel to consider joining a social club like the Moose, Elks, or Eagles. We have also considered American Legions and VFWs, but so far the Moose is working well for us.
Repairs: This was a lengthy and complicated section in last year’s round up, but this year it is quite simple. We experienced gradually worsening electrical problems beginning in New Jersey in May, culminating in the need for a shore power cable replacement in Georgia in October, and then some follow on work in Sarasota in December. Our EasyCare program covered some of the costs, leaving us with a total outlay of less than $750 for the year in repairs, along with about $600 for three new tires, a far cry from the challenges that The Big Kahuna posed. And since our modern motorhome was basically a turn key operation, we have not had to invest money to upgrade or improve it like we did the old bus. Sure, we anticipate additional work and repairs, maybe even a few upgrades, but the basic truck body, engine, transmission, and the like appear rock solid, so we are optimistic about 2017 and beyond.
Favorite Private RV Parks: This year private parks made up about a third of our campgrounds. We stayed at 25 different spots, several of them repeatedly, and did a good amount of research before staying. This made selecting the top few very difficult, and establishing a cut line for the Honorable Mentions even harder. Heck, every place we stayed in Maine could have made the list, but we wanted to geographically spread it out a bit. In the end our favorites for 2016 include a mainstay from 2015 and a few excellent new discoveries:
- Periwinkle Park and Campground on Sanibel Island, FL. Our favorite private park two years running. As the only RV park on Sanibel or Captiva islands, it was a shoe in to make our cut.
- Mt Desert Narrows ME Selecting between the five very nice Maine RV parks was quite tough, but Mt Desert Narrows is fantastic. Location, amenities, beauty, it has it all.
- Adirondack Gateway NY: Immaculately maintained, very friendly owners, a beautiful setting, this place is pure relaxation.
- Honorable Mentions: Poland Spring ME, Blueberry Pond ME, Whispering Winds PA, Country Acres NY, Wanee Lake GA, Cherry Grove NY
- Who dropped off from 2015: well, obviously all the western resorts that we didn’t see this year but also Rambler’s Rest RV Resort, our former go to spot in Venice, FL. They significantly expanded their Passport-America blackout dates to half of the year, and we can’t envision paying their full rates, so they are out of bounds for the foreseeable future.
Favorite National/Federal campground spots: I am only including this section for consistency with last year’s format since we stayed in but four national areas and visited another two in 2016. Making the top three in a list of six isn’t saying much, but here they are anyway:
- Pasaconaway National Forest Campground, White Mountains, New Hampshire: Just fantastic, and reminded us of our paradise like spot we had on the Salmon River in Idaho.
- Platte River Campground, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Forest: Aside from the huge wooded sites, just a mile or so down the road you can swim in the realtively warm and clear Platte River right as it dumps into cold Lake Michigan.
- Big Meadow Campground, Shenandoah National Park: Way to short a stay for us in Shenendoah, we hope to return for longer down the road.
Favorite State Parks: We really enjoy state parks, especially the 15 or so we have camped in within Florida. This year we encountered a few new ones that stick out in our memory, as well as revisited some of our favorites from 2015 and before:
Favorite municipal/city/county parks: Given the great luck we had with county parks in 2015, we significantly increased the number we stayed in this year, allowing us to form a more legit top three and honorable mention list
- Woodland Park MI: We had no intention of stopping for 19 days in one spot until we got back to Key West, but Grand Marais on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan charmed us. The elevated county park here looks out onto Lake Superior. Can’t say enough about this great place.
- Trimble Park FL: As recently as a few weeks ago we referred to this place as our favorite county park, and it still makes the top two. Intimate, beautiful lake side setting with nature everywhere, and located near charming Mount Dora.
- Thompsons West End WI: We loved the little lake side region of Ashland-Washburn, and after a false start at a nearby county park, we stumbled upon this much better option.
- Honorable Mentions: Weko Beach MI, Lebanon Hills MN, Lake Monroe FL, Kelly Park FL
Favorite Military RV Parks: Just like county parks, we stayed in a lot more of these than we did in 2015. Eleven in all, which allows a better top three and honorable mention selection.
- Key West Naval Air Station: This is our third winter in Key West, and our longest stay. The value is extraordinary, particularly for this fantastic location. While the campground presents some challenges, particularly the extensive dry camping requirement, it still tops our list.
- Carr Point Naval Station Newport RI: Another example of how location trumps everything else. $20 for power and water overlooking the bay just a couple of miles from downtown Newport? I’ll take it.
- Tie for third: Arnold AFB TN, Robins AFB GA: The opposite end of the spectrum from the two Navy campgrounds: not exactly located in prime destination spots, but they provide incredible value in a natural and peaceful environment. Arnold wins if you need wifi, Robins if its all about value.
- Honorable Mentions: Manatee Cove Patrick AFB FL, and the Air Force Frequent Camper Program
Least Favorite places: Just as last year, we are willing to call out a few places that disappointed us:
- Taughannock Falls: After a mile hike you get to see a trickle of water falling into a nice swimming hole that you are not allowed to swim in.
- Cayuga Lake swimming area in Taughannock Falls State Park: a roped off and very crowded swimming area in a murky lake with excitable lifeguards rigidly enforcing a ludicrous number of rules.
- Turtle Beach FL: $63 a night to have construction going on all day and a completely torn up beach, with no refund or even ability to shorten the reservation once we saw the disaster. Maybe it’s nice now, but it left a bad taste in our mouths.
Individual monthly reviews for 2016:
2015 in Review