We don’t like one-night stands. They’re too much trouble for too little return. But sometimes, we just have to do it.
I’m talking about our travels, of course. (You knew that, right?) Everyone who travels finds his or her unique pace. We’ve met people who stay a month or longer everywhere they go. (The longer we travel, the more appealing that sounds—except that a cross-country trip at our preferred travel rate of 150 miles per stop would take us 15 months.) At the opposite end of the spectrum, we met an 85-year old man who had been on the road with his wife for 20 years—and they moved every day. “Why?” I asked. He said, “It’s the driving part we like best.”
In our opinion, moving too frequently is a big pain. It takes us an hour or two to set up (depending on how many toys we unload), and the same in reverse to prepare for moving. We’ve settled into a rhythm of staying three to five days most places; if it’s a place we really like, we enjoy lingering for a week or two. And in some very special places, we put down temporary roots for a month—or even two.
Occasionally, though, we succumb to a one-night stand. Sometimes it’s because we’re just passing through and there’s nothing that really calls to us—no hiking, no biking, no kayaking, no compelling points of interest or fascinating quirkiness. Other times, our one-night stands are the result of meandering a bit too much along our route and having to pick up the pace to get to a reservation on time. Which is precisely why we dislike making reservations.
For the most part, we avoid making reservations far in advance. We prefer to see how things unfold throughout our travels, making decisions as we go along according to the weather, our desires, and interesting things that come up along the way. If we make reservations, they’re usually just a week or so out.
But there are some places that strategy doesn’t work. The Florida Keys, for example. If you want to camp at a state park in the Keys during the late fall/winter months, you had better make reservations 11 months in advance, or you won’t get in. (Good luck, even then.) Last January, I somehow managed to snag reservations for two weeks at our favorite state park in the Keys, in a primo waterfront site beginning December 1st.
In late November, we awoke in Tupelo, Mississippi, with 1,000 miles to go and 10 days to get to the Keys—including a six-day stopover to see my folks in Apalachicola before continuing south. Which meant, of course, we had some one-night stands in our near future.
One-night stands really aren’t too bad if you don’t travel too far in one day. If the drive is between 150-200 miles, there’s still time for a hike (or at least a good long walk). We have friends who prefer to bite the bullet and get the miles behind them, traveling 400+ miles in a day. But we’ve found that four hundred miles is a killer day towing a trailer. We arrive cranky and tired, there’s no time for a walk, and neither one of us feels like cooking dinner. (Wine + popcorn does not make a satisfying meal.)
Even though we occasionally indulge in one-night stands, we don’t just settle for any port in a storm. We look for places that are in beautiful, peaceful locations with easy access to hiking trails. Not too far off of our route, but far enough so that it’s a quiet location, ensuring a good night’s sleep. We make every effort to get a level site so that we don’t have to unhook (if you travel towing a trailer or fifth wheel, you know how much time this saves). And we look for places that are inexpensive. Mind you, we don’t always get our desires met (we did, after all, spend a one-nighter at a rest stop in Amarillo, Texas a couple of weeks ago in the company of a herd of eighteen-wheelers), but we do our best.
About the campgrounds:
• Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham AL
At only 150 miles from Tupelo, we were able to swing through Birmingham, do a big shop at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and head for the hills. Or mountains, in this case.
Oak Mountain State Park is the biggest state park in Alabama, with miles of hiking and biking trails and even a sweet nature trail—an elevated boardwalk with a half-dozen luxurious cages that house birds of prey (all suffered injuries that make them unreleasable).
Water and electric, $26 per night. Decent Verizon. The sites are pull-through and level; the outside sites on B-Loop are especially nice because they back up to the woods. Fall is gorgeous here.
• White Oak Creek COE, Eufala AL
Another 165 miles brought us to the Alabama/Georgia border and White Oak Creek campground, a Corps of Engineers site (we’ve yet to find a COE campground that we don’t like). Spacious sites—most overlooking Lake Eufala—with water and electric hookups, concrete pads, good Verizon coverage, and hiking trails, this was another place that we could have easily spent a few days. COE campgrounds are a bargain at $12 (that’s the half-off Senior Pass price).
• Ross Prairie State Forest, Dunellon FL
After six days with my folks in the panhandle of Florida, we headed for the Keys. Ross Prairie Campground was a terrific find in the highly popular Ocala area (where it can be difficult to find spur-of-the-moment campsites). Although it’s designed as an equestrian campground, rigs without horses are welcome. Fifteen pull-though level gravel sites, electric and water, good Verizon, and a horse wash rack should you need it. Nice hiking trails right from the campground. $22 per night.
• Sabal Palm RV Resort, Palmdale FL
This is why we have Passport America. Sabal Palm RV Resort was a great stop for us en route to the Keys—pull-in, hook up to water and electric (sewer if we wanted it), a long walk around the pretty park, and a good night’s sleep in a dark and quiet campground. All this, for only $15 per night at the 50% Passport America discount.
Next Up: Almost Paradise: The Keys