We had three reasons for going to Florida this winter. (Make that four if you consider “winter” a reason.) We’re attending the RVillage Spirit of the Road 2020 Rally in mid-February, connecting up with the kids and grandkids for a week of Disney fun at the end of January, and joining good friends for a few days in between the two; they make Florida a regular winter destination in their VW camper van.
Once the decision was made, we figured we may as well make the trip worthwhile; we’ll stay south for 3 months even though all the afore-mentioned “reasons” will take place within the first month. After those first busy weeks, we hope to revert to our usual form of going wherever the wind blows us until it’s time to head home.
Taking advantage of a break in Ontario’s winter weather, we had a great first travel day as we set off for sunny Florida under sunny skies.
We had scheduled our first overnight stop with Boondockers Welcome hosts in Wapakoneta, Ohio. It’s Neil Armstrong’s home town.
Our hosts kindly welcomed us even though they were packing their own RV and leaving for Florida themselves the next morning. It was a cold night and we really appreciated their offer of an electric hookup.
We hadn’t established a plan for where to stop on night two until we asked our hosts where they were planning to stop. Cracker Barrel restaurants along I-75 encourage free overnight RV parking; they planned to take advantage of that offer. And we took advantage of their invitation to join them.
We enjoyed great conversation over dinner and, since we were in for another very cold night, they offered to share their generator with us.
We realized that a host who offers an electric hookup from their own RV’s power source is definitely going above and beyond what’s expected. It may just be a first, too!
We pushed on and put in more miles than planned. By day two, we had reached northern Georgia and slightly warmer temperatures during the day, although nighttime lows were still worrisome. We had a Boondockers Welcome stay arranged with a host who offers an electric hookup, which we were thankful to have. We moved the stay to arrive a few days earlier, and got off the Interstate, traveling blue highways and stopping to stretch our legs a bit more often.
The 729-foot falls is the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River.
Our Boondockers Welcome host in Ball Ground, GA, has a very nice set up for guests.
We learned that the town name “Ball Ground” comes from the days when the Cherokees used the area for their national pastime: playing ball.
This is the sign welcoming us to our next stop: Boondockers Welcome hosts, GA Gypsies. We had made several attempts but failed to meet up with this couple last summer when we were both in Newfoundland. Because we were all looking forward to finally meeting in person, we had arranged a two-day stay, hoping it would be enough to cement a strong friendship. I think it worked!
After so many days of driving and sitting, we needed to stretch our legs again.
We got along really well with our hosts, who set up a tripod to commemorate our visit with a “formal” portrait.
Randy was extremely grateful to learn they’re NFL fans and invited us to join them for the final playoff game to determine who will play in the Superbowl.
Before we departed, they coaxed us (wasn’t difficult) to join them for lunch – our first-ever taste of good ‘ole-fashioned Georgia Barbecue with Brunswick Stew at one of their favorite local restaurants. Our hosts jokingly refer to pork as “Georgia land lobster.”
We pulled into our next Boondockers Welcome host, Barry’s Compound, in northern Florida just before dark. He already had the welcome mat rolled out and invited us to join other BW guests for an evening of lively conversation around a warming campfire.
We knew we simply HAD to include a stop to meet Barry; he has the title of most-visited host on the BW platform – with 182 confirmed guest visits in less than two years. He can accept five RVs of any size and confessed he doesn’t know what to do for entertainment when he doesn’t have guests.
Colder-than-usual temperatures had pushed us south faster and we reached the greater Orlando area a few days sooner than we had planned. With four days to kill before we were to meet the kids and grandkids in Kissimmee, we had no trouble easily arranging two more stays with hosts.
We’re well aware that getting into a Florida campground at this time of year is next to impossible without reservations months in advance. So we’re particularly happy and grateful to have so many amazing hosts down here who are available on short notice.
And before you surmise they accepted us because they knew “who we were”, that’s often not the case. We don’t play that card! Four of the six hosts we stayed with this week did not know they were hosting co-owners of the BW platform until we divulged it, either when it came up in conversation or when we thanked them on behalf of the platform as we were getting ready to leave.
When we told our hosts, Park in the Pines, near Polk City, we ended up talking for hours more than I’m sure they had intended. They were leaving on a cruise early the next morning and still had to pack for it when we finally retired for the evening.
We took advantage of these extra days by completing a few errands, minor RV repairs, and exploring some local trails.
At our final host, Wildergimp, we were just two blocks from the lake where a welcoming committee of ibises greeted our arrival. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon in the shade as the sun was quite warm, and broke out our portable barbecue for the first time on this trip.
As self-confessed pickleball addicts, our hosts were happy to invite us to play with them two mornings in a row – in the gym the first day, and on the tennis court before we said our goodbyes.
Now, ten days, 1400 miles, and twelve new friends later, we’re ready for phase two: a rare week away from the RV, in an 8-bedroom rental house shared with our kids and grandkids near Disney. This is our fourth time doing this but only the second time we’ve arrived by RV.
As I hope this post reveals, we made the most of the long drive down, spicing it up with plenty of variety – much of it totally serendipitous – to the credit of the amazing people we met along the way.
- Total days on the road this trip: 10
- Total camping costs to date: $0