Our next stop after leaving Key West was the Collier-Seminole State Park in the Marco Island / Naples Florida area. Thanks to the Big Cyprus National Reserve along the way and the amazing exhibits at Collier-Seminole, we learned a lot about the history of this area. Most of Florida’s state parks have something interesting but this one actually has a piece of history, the famous Walking Dredge that helped create the Tamiama Trail. You can walk around it and read all about how it was used to create the actual road we drove on to get to the park. Pretty cool! There’s lots of water and hiking at the park too and we found the staff to be very friendly and helpful. It’s so far out in the middle of nowhere literally that they host star gazing astronomy sessions. And the wildlife… wow! We also lost count of the number of alligators we saw both on hikes and out the window of the Travato van as we rode down highway 41.
So our molding trim piece between the passenger door and the sliding door just fell off. Well, it didn’t just fall off on it’s on… it had a little help. We left a water bottle on the running board and closed the door the night before, you know the kind of closed the door you have to do with the Travato… hard. The bottle was caught between the sliding door and the passenger door. We looked and thought the only damage was the dent in the water bottle. The next morning when we got in the van to run an errand the molding between the two doors fell off to the ground. It had taken the brunt of the force and the little clips that hold it in place were broken. We went online to find those little clips were available at Winnebago but we had two problems. We were not near any dealer to get the part from a service department and second they wanted your first born for the 4 little clips… purchase and shipping well over $35 for 4 plastic clips.
So off to Advance Auto we went in search of a molding clip that could be a good substitute. And we found one after a little trial and error. Part number 963217D was just $3.99 for 4 clips and they worked perfectly. So if your moulding loose for any reason this little tip could save you a lot of money and the frustration of getting something shipped to you or finding a dealer. We haven’t taken the other pieces off to confirm but it’s logical that all the decorative molding around the van uses this same clip, just a lot more of them. In a pinch… improvise… worked great and saved us a lot of hassle and money! Win!
WHY KEY WEST– On Owen’s birthday in January we left our cold NC home in our 59K Travato van with one destination in mind… Key West. We thought, if you’re going to Florida why not go big and go as far south as you can. After six years of being snow birds in one area of Florida our van opened up the opportunity for us to simply see more, and that’s what we’ve done.
NOT THE DESTINATION– While Key West was where we were aiming the van it was not the real destination. The real destination was home back in NC… Key West was just the point on the map where we would turn the van north and head up the west coast of Florida after meandering down the east coast to get there. But don’t get us wrong, it was a great point on the map when it comes to putting a pin in the map. Kind of like putting a pin in a map heading west at San Francisco or Acadia if you’re heading east.
IT IS CALLED THE KEYS FOR A REASON– Yes we were in Key West, but actually the jewel of the trip there was really the drive down US 1 South through all the keys. We remembered it as being breathtaking and from the higher seat of the van it was even more so. Crystal blue water, pelicans flying beside you without even flapping their wings, that unmistakable smell of salt air and sunshine… yes, it was the ride down that we remember the most. We stopped at lots of places along the way and really took our time getting there, something we have learned to do more and more.
AN RV/VAN IN KEY WEST?– Well, we saw lots and lots of RVs in Key West. Along the water there were dozens parked with doors open just soaking in the view and sounds. We chose to stay at Boyd’s, which is about 5 miles from Duval Street, where the “action” is. We found Boyd’s to be like just about everything else in Key West… crowded and packed… kind of like my grandfather would have said about stuffing 10 lbs of crap in a 5 lb bag. Real estate / property / places to build there on that tiny island with so many people is definitely at a premium and Boyd’s was no exception. Our “waterfront” site was neatly tucked in at an angle between two other RVs. Sure we could see the water, but when my left hand was touching the back of our van I could just about touch the RV to the right of us… and when my right hand was touching our van I could just about touch the RV to the left us. Crammed in like sardines… is that the saying? And it wasn’t just our spot. It was as if someone took an overhead map of the park and created a jigsaw puzzle to get as many pieces covering the photo as possible and then built an RV park from the plans. That said, we enjoyed our stay there. They were very, very professional and very hospitable and nice. But for $165 per night plus another $35 in tax because we are “on the island” you’d expect them to be nice.
THEY DON’T CALL ME SCOOTER FOR NOTHING – Owen’s nickname when he was two was “Scooter”. Many of his family still to this day call him that. It had something to do with the way he crawled. With that nickname in mind we rented a double scooter for the 3 nights we were there. Parking is also at a premium near Duval Street and neither of us really looked forward to trying to find a place to park the van near all the action… so for $140 we rented the scooter for our transportation. This allowed us to leave Maggie in the van in the cool A/C and head out exploring without worrying about her safety and it was free to park on just about every corner of the city for our scooter. We found it to be a great way to see a lot of Key West. We could scoot into town for breakfast and walk around and then scoot back to the van to rest and check on Maggie… and then scoot back over to watch the sunset. Owen has his motorcycle endorsement and even though it’s been a while since we’ve been on a motorcycle we felt safe after a mile or two.
FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES– We have learned to not make really firm plans when we arrive at a place. In Key West it was good that we did not because our friends from NC, Terri and Doc, arrived on the island the first night we were there… we saw it on their Facebook post. Well, that must be fate we thought so we reached out to them. What happened next was two days of scooting around Key West with great friends that are a lot of fun to be with, making the entire experience even better. We’d ride the scooter into town and meet with them and then make a plan for the day. Our way of seeing an area… literally by the seat of our pants.
WOULD WE GO BACK– Would we drive all the way back to Key West? I don’t know… do we see driving back to the Grand Canyon?… or back to Acadia one day?… or back to Memphis?… the answer is YES!… with a caveat. You see there’s so much to see in the US and Canada and there’s just a finite amount of time that it’s possible to travel and see it all. We treat destinations the same way we treat restaurants. We have a scale of NEVER GO BACK, IT WAS OK, GO BACK FOR SURE. So where does Key West land in that scale for us???… it’s a GO BACK FOR SURE place… but only if we’ve run out of places on our bucket list that we haven’t seen yet.
WE HEAD NORTH NOW – There’s just something about being as far south as you can be in the US. There’s no place to go but North… and that’s what we’re going to do next. We’ll point our Travato north on US 1 and head up the west coast of Florida until… well, until we either get to Mississippi or we decide that we are smelling the barn and are ready to head back to NC. We’re glad you’re along for this meandering ride.
It Was On Our Bucket List – Like everyone else we have a bucket list… you know the list you keep of the places you really, really, really want to go one day. Well, the Everglades National Park has been on that list for us and even though we’ve spent the last six winters in Florida we have never even come close to visiting that awesome area… that is until this trip.
It Is A Huge Park – We pulled in to the park and headed for the visitors center for a quick stop, hoping to see our first Everglades alligator. Nope! No worries. We then drove the 39 miles, that’s right 39 miles, from the entrance to our campsite. About 10 miles in our Verizon cellphone signal bit the dust. No worries we thought… as we get closer it will come back. NOPE! Three nights without cell phone coverage out in the middle of, well… the Everglades.
You Build Up Everything Sparky – Nothing really prepares you for how you’ll feel when you step out into the Everglades for the first time. Like Sparky in the movie Christmas Vacation I believe I had built it up to 6-year-old Christmas morning levels. Those kinds of levels are hard to live up to. The Everglades came close though. We did not see as much wildlife as we had hoped to see but then again the bugs were not as bad as we had been told to expect either. Bike rides along the blue water, walks beside sailboats and manatees at the marina and even a pontoon boat ride where we saw exactly one alligator, lots of birds and caught 2 or 3 snook. Yep! It was a great 3-night trip to the Everglades and one that we will remember as a highlight of our 2019 Florida adventure in our Winnebago Travato 59K van.
So moochdocking… what is it? On our way to Key West we moochdocked for only the second time, ironically the first time was with our aunt in Deleware. Our aunt and uncle, Marion and Steve, invited us to come and spend some time with them as we passed through Miami. So that’s just what we did… we slept in their driveway in Miami… actually we slept in our van which was parked in their driveway but that’s just a technicality. If you don’t know what mooch docking is, it’s parking your van or RV in someone’s driveway, preferably someone that you know, and sleeping there instead of a campground or boondocking. Our van is perfect for mooch docking and in this case allowed us to spend quality time with our family without having to feel like we were really intruding on their space… and we got to sleep in our home on wheels. I’m reminded, as always if you follow us, of a scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Eddie says he and the misses are pretty comfy in the RV but if the kiddos could sleep inside that would be great. Well… that how it is for us, except we don’t have any kiddos with us.
What To Expect When Moochdocking – I guess that depends on what RV you are staying in and the amenities offered by your Mooch-“er” / Host. For us Steve and Marion had water and 15amp electricity. We didn’t need the water but man we sure made use of the electricity to run the air conditioner, both at night and when we left Maggie in her “home” while we went out exploring.
Should You Pay For Moochdocking? – That depends on how well you know them I guess but as a rule we would say at least offer. In our case we took them out to dinner at a nice restaurant overlooking the Miami skyline. Now, they didn’t want us to do that but we insisted. Whether you pay and how much is really up to you, but some kind of kind gesture to let your host know that you are truly appreciative is warranted.
What To Do With Your Time? – You may wonder if you should plan to spend all your time inside their home with them. Again that depends. In our case we spent most of the day time hours inside their home eating, helping to prepare meals, watching the Oscars and sharing stories of memories of family, which is the best part about visiting with family like this anyway. At night we’d retire to our home on wheels and allow them enough time to wind down before bed time. In the mornings we had a signal that if the front door was unlocked that meant they were up and we should come on in. Or, if we were moving around by the time breakfast was ready they’d knock on the door. Our uncle got a kick out of the “if the van’s rocking” joke but knocked one morning just for fun.
Almost Moochdocking – If you like the feeling of mooch docking you can always expand that beyond family by becoming a member of Boondockers Welcome, which is really just a bunch of strangers who allow strangers to stay in their driveways or on their land. Another option is Harvest Hosts, which is essentially businesses doing the same thing. Either way, there are lots of nice folks out there and not all of them are family, but many are sure to become family if you take the time to mooch dock when the opportunity presents itself. We feel like we got to know our aunt and uncle even better because of the quality time we were able to spend with them because of our van and moochdocking. We think you should try it. Just make sure you know the person whose driveway you are mooching… or it could get embarrassing.
We were surprised to find out how it feels to actually get kicked out of a park… well, kind of anyway. We had planned to utilize overflow parking for one night that was full during our stay at Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Florida but to our surprise they would not allow it. You see because we had to change our reservations at this park to delay our arrival at the Everglades National Park we ended up with a 3 day stay, a non-booked day and a 2-day stay at Jonathan Dickinson.
Since we had previously utilized staying in overflow parking at other Florida State parks we assumed we’d be able to just stay in the overflow area, have fun at the park the next morning and then check back in for our last two night. So, when we checked in we asked and were told, sure… if nobody cancels for that night we’ll gladly let you stay in overflow as long as you’re in a self-contained unit. Can’t get much more self-contained than our camper van so we were extremely surprised when we checked for cancellations and found none and were then told we could not use overflow parking since we had a reservation the next night there. What??? Yep! If you have a reservation coming up you can’t arrive early and use overflow.
OK, we’ll just find a place to stay the night and everything will be fine. Wow! Southern Florida is not very dry-camping friendly. In fact they are about the opposite of dry-camping friendly. We had to drive an hour further south to find a Cracker Barrel that allowed overnight stays. So, off to Boynton Beach for that night and then it was back to the state park where we got to actually get out on the Loxahatchee River on our paddle boards and actually caught a few fish! Yeah!
So all that said, that one night could leave us bitter and upset… but, nope! We just rolled with the flow and arrived back at the gate around 10am the next morning, found our campsite for the night already open, hooked up the electric and headed out on the water for a very fun day.
And, Maggie got to meet up with two of her biggest fans, according to Shawn and Dawn Kane of Michigan. They reached out to us to find out where we were since they were in Florida and quickly made their way to the park we were at so we could spend some time together. Well, more like so they could meet the famous Maggie and we tagged along. 🙂 We found a great Mexican restaurant and headed out for dinner together. It was great getting to know them and hear about their Travato van travels too. Maggie felt right at home with them too and even rode in Shawn’s lap on the trip. See, she is the star of the channel… but we’re OK with that. She is such a bundle of love and fun and we are so lucky to have her in our life.
So like every old couple we’ve developed our little routines. We get up and start our day with a simple cup of coffee, we make the beds, eat breakfast and walk Maggie. We try to get a few chores done everyday and we try to get some excercise too. And we try to learn something about the area we are in. In other words we try to create a sense of normalcy… sameness… routine. We’ve learned that that sense of routine helps make it feel more like being at home on the road as opposed to being on vacation in a van. Not that there’s anything wrong with being on vacation in the van, it’s just that that is not a sustainable way of living for months and months at a time. You get tired and burnt out if you give in to the “Got To See, Got To Do EVERYTHING” mentality.
When you live life in a van the time you spend together is a precious. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have daily chores and routines. In fact it’s those routines that give us a sense of peace and sanity in our van. Whether it’s making coffee, making the beds, driving to the next location or dumping the tanks, planning our next few days, walking Maggie or watching another beautiful sunset… each plays an important of life together in our van. You see, routines in a small space are really important. Without them life is full of haphazard occurences and sometimes chaos… and chaos in a such a small space causes stress and anxiety. We try steer our van and our lives together away from both of those… isn’t that why we chose a life in a small camper van anyway. Oh yeah… and the most important routine? We laugh… not the LOL kind of laugh but the old fashioned laughing about the small, crazy things in our life that we’re blessed to live together.
Now that’s also not to say that we don’t go out and splurge on activities or great meals, because we do. It’s just we try to not fall into the trap of doing that every day. If you’ve been on a cruise ship then you know the mental fatigue that comes from waking up and going, going, going all day long until you crash and sleep frantically and then get back up and do it again… every day until they push you off the ship and load in a new batch of folks that will do the same thing. But those that work on the ship… their life is different because they’ve learned that that breakneck pace is just not healthy for weeks or months at a time. The same thing applies to living in a van on the road. Sure you could do something big and fun and expensive every day (if you had the health and wealth to pull that off) but we choose not to do that.
What we share with you is usually those big things that we do each week. We sometimes share the mundain things too, like walking Maggie, making coffee, grilling out but most of the time we share the things we think we’d be interested in seeing if we were you the viewer. Same with this week’s video. We hope you enjoy it and we’d love to hear from you about how you travel for extended periods. What’s your pace when you’re out there? For us we try to keep a healthy balance between constant fun and a normal life.