A Quality Adventure is Closer than You Think!

I’ll admit it. I’m torn.

Part of me really wants to tell you about a wonderful new adventure that’s right under your nose (no matter where you are)!  The other part of me really, really wants to keep it under-wraps – to preserve it as the best kept secret – to keep it all to myself always and forever.

But, I’m going to tell you anyway.  First, because I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t.  Secondly, most folks won’t do it anyway, so I guess I figure it’s safe to talk about.  Third, if you do take my advice, you’ll not only have the most amazing road trip that you’ve had in a while, but you’ll also be helping keep small town America alive.

The funny thing is that it’s not a big secret, just a forgotten one.

The last time you planned a road trip, I’ll bet the farm that 99% of you planned your trip to take the fastest route.  Gotta hurry up and get there, right?  That means freeways and big cities.  It does have it’s benefits: you get there faster and you have easy access to gas, food, truck stops, rest stops, and hotels (if you want them).  Granted, these are all important things.  But it also means that you’re driving in city traffic (or at the very least, with city drivers who still think they’re in the city).  You’re probably also traveling at a pace that rivals that of the Millennium Falcon.  But, let’s face it… gas mileage isn’t great at warp speed, nor is your view.

To be perfectly honest, the further I get from our old life of rush-rush living, the less I can tolerate that kind of driving.  Maybe it’s because I’ve worked so hard at undoing it’s affects in my life.  Being in that traffic brings back the familiar flood of stress hormones that make my blood pressure rise right on queue.  But these days, I’m not used to the “stress rush.” It is surprisingly alarming and nearly triggers a “flight response” for me.  Not pleasant.

 

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State highways can be so much more peaceful than the freeway!

 

So, why not, instead, add a few years to your life by allowing yourself a bit longer to drive from here to there.  Take the country highways.  There are thousands and thousands of miles of them in this country. What’s more, you’ll be very surprised with how little traffic there is on them.  At least, I was.  Traffic was so light, in fact, that it was reminiscent of what the roads were like 30 years ago.  It was a bit like stepping back in time.

Additionally, you’ll have a much more enjoyable drive and you’ll get to see so much of the countryside that’s never seen from the interstate.  Take your time and study the terrain, the farms, the factories, the towns, and the people you pass along the way.  Stop at the little homesteads that are selling chicken and duck eggs!  There are so many delightful people to meet and experiences to be had along the way.

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Since there’s not the constant barrage of exits with gas and fast food, you will need to plan ahead a bit.  Don’t wait until your gas tank is on empty to try to fill up.  It can be a long way between gas stations on these country roads.  Plan your meals to coincide with when you’re passing through a town. If you need something, stop and shop, and help keep these little towns alive in the process.  

Now with all of that said – if you’re still addicted to the Han Solo mode of driving, please don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Save yourself (and us) some frustration.  Keep on traveling at warp speed with your own kind on the interstate!  Meanwhile, we’ll stay out of your way and will enjoy the journey along the way.

After all, isn’t the journey supposed to be as important as the destination?

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Back in the Saddle Again!

Ft Pierce (1)I’ve been away from you far too long, my gypsy-souled friends.  I’m very sorry for that, forgive me.  The winter took an unexpected turn, and I’ve needed a break to do a bit of processing.  Never fear, I’m back.  It’s time to catch you up.

After many grand plans were made, with a variety of unsurpassable roadblocks that came up for each set of those plans, we ended up back in our old stomping grounds in Florida for the winter.  The very same area that we left when we started this gypsy journey a little over a year prior, in fact.    What’s more, I went back to work for the same company that I was with then also.  Talk about full circle!

Naturally, we were worried about back tracking, and getting sucked back into the system.  After all, we’d worked so hard over the past year to unwind ourselves and the damage it caused from our lives.  It was a valid concern.  A good bit of the old life came rushing right back at us when we started up the old way of living again.  But, after looking back and taking some time to think through it, here are my reflections:

  • Revisiting and reconfirming your life choices from time to time is healthy.
    This past winter was a gift in that it gave us a chance to compare what our life (and our expectations of life) are and were, and how the two paths (conventional living and gypsy living) fit who we are and who we want to be.  We were deliberate in making our decision in favor of gypsy living the first time, but making the decision a second time gives you greater strength and conviction in knowing beyond a doubt that it’s what’s right for you.
  • Networking is key (no matter what path you’re taking in life!)
    More than networking actually.  When I think of networking, I tend to think of anxious people in “corporate climber” attire with nothing in common, passing business cards back and forth to each other at a chamber of commerce brunch. That’s not what I mean. Instead, I believe in being sincere and working on making friends everywhere I go, at work, at play, wherever.  Not all of them will be friendships that last, but the connection was sincere.  As Jesus said “Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of these is Love.” Part of my mission in this life is to try to embody that love and share it.  For me, that means building and doing my best to maintain heart felt connections.  That’s one of the greatest gifts we’ve been given to share.It was through one such friendship, that we were able to rent a room in a friend’s house for the winter.  It was a blessing in several ways for us.  We paid a very reasonable rent, got to enjoy her family, and did some repairs around the house for her. Hopefully our stay was a blessing for her also.
  • Keeping your integrity opens doors.
    When we left the first time, I was honest with my employer, and told them that we weren’t able to make it financially and needed to find another solution.  I then stayed every bit as engaged at work as I had been before deciding to leave.  (I always try to leave my employer and co-workers in a better spot than when I arrived.)  I suppose it’s a little like Johnny Appleseed, planting seeds wherever he went.  I like the idea of the trees growing and bearing fruit after I’ve gone.  My point though, is that, while it wasn’t my intent, it left the door open for my return.
    Being committed to our new lifestyle though, I made sure that I was clear from the get-go about the temporary nature of our time in Florida.  I didn’t want to mislead them and betray their trust. Living honestly is also one of our mantras in this new life we’re carving for ourselves.
  • You’re more capable than you allow yourself to realize.
    While a year isn’t that long to be away, we fit a lot of living in that year.  And most of that time was doing work that wasn’t quite of the same nature.  Instead of doing database analysis, project management work and streamlining processes for manufacturing, I worked the front desk at a resort.  I house sat dogs and cats.  I camped in the woods.  I put together camping equipment for busloads of school children and families.  I did housekeeping.  I visited friends.  I served corn dogs and chili cheese fries at the state fair.It was wonderful, and blissfully low-stress.  But also not particularly mentally engaging. Would my brain still work the way it did when I was back doing the regular grind?  Would I remember anything?  Could I go back to doing it successfully?  Deep down, I think that’s a fear that probably many of us have, fear that by trying something different, we’ve permanently severed the ties.  I was worried about it too.

    Granted, the answer might’ve been different if I’d been away longer.  But this time, I was delighted to see (as was my employer!) that I could step back in without missing a beat.  I’ll repeat this, as it’s important for us all to hear:  We are capable of more than we let ourselves realize.

  • Down time can be just what you need.
    This area was pretty isolated, with not much in the way of work opportunities.  But hubby was able to pick up some work in tutoring math.  And he also spent the winter teaching himself different skills that will help us in our travels, namely auto mechanics.Yet another blessing of having an old vehicle, is that it’s no longer difficult or expensive to find the repair manuals that the auto shops used to protect like gold.  They’re not designed for beginners, but if you couple the instructions and information with some diligent online research, there’s much that you can do yourself.  He was able to replace:

    • The rear window (that was shattered by an unruly dumpster that got in our way one evening).
    • The starter
    • The fan clutch
    • The distributor cap, wires, and plugs
    • The radiator
    • Fixed the oxygen sensor
    • and learned how to turn off the check engine light

And so, besides learning something he’d always wanted to know about, he ended up saving us several thousands of dollars in the repairs that he made.  That’s in before tax dollars.  Also, because it’s essentially our home these days, he took great care in doing the job well.  That’s something that you don’t always get when you take your vehicle into the shop.

  • You never know where things will lead you.
    While we’re now off and onto new adventures and back on the gypsy track, my winter’s work gained me the opportunity to do contract work for the company from afar.  It’s something that, if it continues to work out for both of us, can be done virtually anywhere that has internet access.  Of course, nothing in life is guaranteed, except death and taxes (as Benjamin Franklin said).  But this has the potential of giving us some stability that we can take with us in our travels.  Perhaps it will open other doors also.  Remember, that in order to make the most of opportunities, you have to be willing to both see them, and do something with them.  It reminds me of an old cartoon quote that went something like this:  “Opportunity knocked, but by the time I’d looked through the peephole, turned the deadbolt, removed the chain, unlocked the doorknob, and opened the door, it had gone.”

I guess what I’m saying is, that life isn’t easy no matter how you approach it.  There will always be challenges.  It is how you handle those challenges that matters.  We only get one “go-round” in this world.  Make the most of it. Decide what’s truly important to you, and work toward it.  Mistakes will be made, but that’s part of learning and part of living.  The only people that don’t make mistakes are the ones that have moved on to the next world.  While you’re still breathing, it is never, never too late to start living.  And in the process, you’ll learn a lot about yourself, and you may just enrich your life.

For 2 Weeks, We Were Carnies!

Working at the Fair

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We worked a couple of weeks at the fair!

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work a festival?   You’re picturing an array of colorful flashing lights, roller coasters, ferris wheels, happy families, young couples hand in hand, caramel apples, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and pony rides.  It sounds intriguing doesn’t it?

We certainly thought of those things also.  But besides the “fun” of it, our other motivations for sampling this type of work were:

  • It appealed to our sense of adventure.
  • We’re continuously looking for short term temporary jobs that we can do when in between longer term seasonal jobs
  • Based on the show schedule, we thought we’d be able to work for a couple of weeks, then take a couple of weeks off, then work for a couple of weeks, etc.
  • We expected to work a lot of hours, but also to make a lot of money in return.
  • We were hopeful that we’d make more gypsy-living friends.

Here’s the way it all unfolded:

A resort co-worker in Minnesota mentioned working at the Minnesota State Fair.  He works it every year, and is able to sock away a good stash of cash.  Alas, after investigating it, we learned that many of the state fairs require you to apply for the jobs in person.  In other words, they don’t consider applicants unless you’re able to show up for a 15 minute interview in person, well ahead of the fair date.  Even when we were in Minnesota, this wasn’t practical for us, as it was a 4 hour drive to get to Minneapolis to register and interview.  With our transient lifestyle, being in the right cities at the right times to apply for fair work just wasn’t likely.  So we tabled the idea for a while.

Fast forward 2 months.  We happened to be house-sitting about an hour’s drive from Nashville while the Tennessee State Fair was in town.  We couldn’t commit to working the fair, due to our obligations with the house (pet) sitting gig.  But we did take a day-trip to the fair for research and fun.  The Nashville fair’s pretty small, and most of the booths were owned by the same vendors.  So, we sought out a manager for one of the larger vendors, and waited for him to be available.  He looked us over, and asked if we’d help him out at an upcoming venue.  It was a pretty informal agreement, he offered us a flat amount for our work at that fair, a place to park the van with electric hookup, and whatever we wanted to eat from the army of food trucks he was taking to that fair.  So we figured, why not?

Camping Conditions at the Fair

And so, two weeks later, we showed up at the Mississippi State Fair.  We parked the van in the vendor “campground” area next to our vendor’s bunkhouses.  Calling it a campground is a bit of a stretch, but it served the purpose.  We were about 1/4 mile walk to the nearest public bathroom on the fairgrounds, and another 1/2 mile past that to the nearest shower house.

Our van was surrounded by bunkhouses with one on each side, and 3 behind us.  There was about  5 feet of space between us and the neighbors.   Which would’ve been ok, except that we’re not smokers (of any kind).  All our neighbors were.  We don’t really care what other people do, as long as it doesn’t affect us.  However, we rely on fresh air to ventilate the van at night, as we don’t have air conditioning.  After a long day of work and short nights of sleep, some quiet and fresh air would’ve been a welcome reprieve.

I’d not seen travel trailer bunkhouses before, so that was interesting.  Basically, they customized travel trailers to contain a bunch of tiny independent sleeping rooms.  There was a larger cabin on one end of each, reserved for supervisors, or such.  The bunkhouses looked something like this:

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Most of the “regular” staff for this vendor traveled with them from fair to fair, and stayed in their bunkhouses.  Most didn’t have their own vehicles, and instead drove the bunkhouses or the vendor food trucks, or the other supply of supply of support trucks for the vendor.

Food, Laundry & Other Misc. Curiosities at the Fair

Part of the “pitch” we’d received was that meals would be taken care of, in that we could just eat from any of the 10+ food trucks at the fair.  It sounded “fair” enough, and was fun at first.  Who wouldn’t enjoy a chance to sample all the tantalizing junk food that we weren’t allowed to have as a kid: candied apples, cotton candy, corn dogs, funnel cakes, chili cheese fries, etc. etc.   Don’t worry Mom…  it wasn’t long before we didn’t want any more fried food or sugar!   So, we settled mostly on Nathan’s hot dogs without the buns, apples (before they were dipped), gyro’s, and lots of bottled water.  There were some other items that were at the food carts, like salads and grilled meats, but they were excluded from the “meals included” list.

Laundry was another challenge while there.  We’d brought an ample supply of black pants, socks and undies… enough to get us through the fair.  We’d been told that shirts were provided.  What they meant was that two shirts were provided per person.  Extra shirts were available for $10 each.  We certainly weren’t going to buy extra shirts, so we made do.  (Of course, you have to picture that we worked 16 hour days in these shirts.)  We started off by washing them out in the shower every couple of days.  But it was hot and humid there.  We had to lock the van up tight when we went to work, so there was no practical place to hang them to dry.  In the end, we just succumbed to wearing them over and over again.

Bathing was another challenge.  The bath house didn’t feel very safe, and was so far away.  Life at the fair consisted (for us) of two things: work and sleep.  If we took time for anything else, we were taking away from the little bit of sleep that we were afforded.  We hadn’t expected to have access to showers, anyhow.  In preparation, we’d brought along an ample supply of baby wipes.  While it sounds silly, those baby wipes were a life-saver.  Even in the small confines of the van, we could easily “bathe” ourselves, or even just use them to freshen up with throughout the day.

Note: We highly recommend keeping a supply of baby wipes for van camping in general!

Working at the Fair:  The People

We always try to work along others without judgement.  We’re all God’s children, after all.  But in all fairness, if you’re considering trying this type of work, you should know that you’ll be working and living among folks that you’d probably not normally surround yourself with.  It’s not uncommon for your co-workers to have substance-abuse troubles, be ex-cons, a bit crazy, or just downright untrustworthy.  Not that everyone’s that way, but at least from our experience, it seemed to be pretty common.

The Work Itself

The hardest part for us, was standing on our feet for so long each day.  We often worked 16 hours a day, with a scattering of breaks throughout the day.  But, while at your stand, you weren’t permitted to sit or lean.  So that means, standing for the majority of the day on aluminum trailer flooring or pavement (depending on what your stand was).  We’ve worked jobs on our feet before, but never where you worked so many hours or where you couldn’t at least lean a little to take some of the weight off your poor feet.  I’m not kidding when I say that our feet ached for days after the fair was over.

The work itself was fine and what you’d expect.  I worked the corn dog stand, and mostly just took orders.  Hubby worked the lemonade stand and took orders and made lemonade all day.  The guests coming through were mostly city folk.  During the day, the guests were mostly families, elderly, or handicapped.  At night, the place turned into the world’s largest night club filled with all sorts of (very) interesting people. It reminded me a little of Bourbon St in New Orleans.  Working a stand is an excellent place to people-watch, and provided us with hours of entertainment.

I’d like to say that that the compensation made the entire experience worthwhile, but when you figured the number of hours worked against the lump sum amount paid, the hourly rate turned out to be around $4 or so an hour.  If you take any time off (whether a half a day, or a day), your lump sum is reduced accordingly.  From what others told us, if it rained and the fair was closed, you didn’t get paid for that time either.

We’d also hoped to have time off in between gigs (based on their published fair schedule).  But, that wasn’t how it was set-up.  If you continue working with them, the extra days between gigs are taken up with breaking down at one fair, and setting up at the next.  If you travel with them from show to show, but use your own vehicle, your travel costs aren’t covered.

Note:  There are larger national carnival companies that hire employees as regular hourly employees, with benefits, etc.

Lessons Learned:

We learned quite a bit from the experience, about ourselves and others.  While it wasn’t pleasant or easy, we stuck it through to the end (mostly, because we committed to it and felt we needed to honor our commitment).

Would we do it again? Maybe.  If we were stuck in between jobs and needed the money.  But it wouldn’t be our first choice.  It is a way to pick up some cash without having to make a commitment longer than 2 weeks at a time.

If we do fair work in the future, we’ll likely go through the regular hiring channels at the fairgrounds.  Those positions actually pay hourly, so while you still work a lot of hours, are far more profitable.

2017 – Finishing our 1st Gypsy Year!

Like most of you, we too have been taking stock of 2017 before we say goodbye to it.  For those of you who’ve been following our middle aged gypsy journey, our tally of one year’s worth of adventures won’t surprise you.

 

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We started 2017 at 8600 feet above sea level in Colorado!

 

 

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and are ending the year near the beach in Florida!

 

As for some of the best of 2017:

  • Wintered at 8500 feet above sea level in Colorado’s ski country
  • Took lessons in cross-country skiing
  • Did a fair amount of ice-fishing
  • Pet/House sat at 3 different places (Kansas, Ohio, Tennessee)
  • Took care of horses
  • Visited friends we haven’t seen in a long time
  • Visited family we haven’t seen in a long time
  • Camped near Mackinac Bridge, Michigan
  • Drove through northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
  • Got to know magnificent Lake Superior
  • Summered on the US/Canadian border of Minnesota’s boundary waters
  • Kayaked and fished on some of the most pristine waters in this country (in northern MN)
  • Picked and enjoyed many wild blueberries
  • Harvested and enjoyed lots of fresh fish and crayfish
  • Survived quite a few black bear encounters
  • Watched a nest of pileated woodpeckers grow up and fly away
  • Hubby got to work on a lakeside dock, helping guests enjoy their outing; I got to learn about canoe outfitting and help groups of guests enjoy their boundary waters camping adventure
  • We visited a state I’d not been to (Louisiana), saw New Orleans, ate delicious Cajun food, visited a plantation home, and saw beautiful bayous.  We also spent  couple of weeks in a state that we didn’t know much about (Mississippi)
  • Camped and explored some of Florida’s panhandle
  • Swam in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Swam and fished in the Atlantic
  • Met so many new friends that we cherish  – from different age groups, countries, and walks of life
  • Hubby and I spent a lot of quality time together

There were low-points too, of course.  We’ve spent a couple of thousand dollars on car repairs or maintenance in the past year.  We had a couple of seasonal jobs that didn’t work out as we’d hoped and presented us with some pretty stressful times.  And all that wonderful cross country travel came at the price of untold gallons of gasoline.  We spent money on some things we thought we needed, but really didn’t.  And we got rid of some things that we needed, but thought we didn’t.  Oh, and I turned that magical number, 50.

Our year was one of having no place to call home of our own.  We’ve lived in a hotel room that’s used for staff housing, in other people’s homes (while house or pet sitting for them while they’re on vacation), staying with friends and family, camping, staying in staff dorm housing, camping in a platform tent for 2 months, and sleeping in the van.  The types of work we’ve done have been just as varied.

While our lifestyle at each specific destination has been slow and deliberate over the year, the pace of change has been pretty fast and by the end we were getting a bit worn.  So, we met the opportunity to winter back in our old Florida stomping grounds as a welcome reprieve into a bit of the familiar.  Rest assured, we’ll be ready to adventure again come spring.

However, all that being said, this is the very first year that I can EVER remember, where I feel content and satisfied with the parting year.  Hubby agrees that he feels the same.  I’m humbled that it’s taken us over half our lives to achieve just one year that we can peacefully say goodbye to.

All those years of obsessing over “more,” trying to keep up,  and trying to maintain the image the world wants of us.  Funny that it’s actually the year where we’ve shirked the mainstream that’s made all the difference.  Was everything easy? No.  Did everything go our way?  No. Did we have some frightening and stressful experiences? Yes.

Did we gain experiences that were meaningful? Yes.  Did we learn and grow? Yes.  Did we do better at living life on our terms? Yes.  Did we minimize the distracting noise of the modern world in our lives? Yes.  Did we fit as many of the important parts of living into 2017 as we could?  Yes. Did we live what we believe?  Yes.

And so, for the first time (at least, that we can recall in our adult lives), we’re at peace with offering a fond farewell to the old year.  We hope that you’re able to do the same, and we sincerely wish you a new year focused on (and filled with) the truly important things in life!

 

Why Do We Love Bridges So?

I love, love, love traveling over big bridges.  (Do other people get as childishly excited about bridges as I do?)  I love the excitement of seeing a big bridge ahead on the horizon.  I can’t help it.  Like clockwork, as the peak of the bridge approaches, my pulse quickens.  Testing the boundaries of my seatbelt, I’m consumed with anticipation.  What  fleeting glimpse of grandeur waits at the top?  Every sense available is heightened, trying to take it all in as fast as I can.  Then it’s over. The brief encounter has passed.  The sights, sounds, and smells are but a memory. Ever so briefly, I’m tempted to turn around and drive it again.  What lingers longest is a smile of satisfaction, like a child having just disembarked from a carnival ride.

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Mackinac Bridge is impressive and well worth the drive, spanning the straight between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron

It’s not so much the bridge itself that brings such joy. Although, they can be beautiful architectural accomplishments in their own right.  The fascination (at least for me) comes from the sense that I’m getting a God’s-eye view.  I’m being blessed, ever how briefly, with a glimpse of a treasure that I’d not normally get to see.  It compares to the exhilaration that comes from sitting atop a mountain, sans the exercise.  Or perhaps even like what you might feel from looking out from an airplane’s window-seat.

Bridges are also gateways to new (or returning) places, sights, and faces.  They awaken  feelings of adventure, possibilities and even hope.

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By Ray Devlin from New Orleans (for now), USA 

I was blessed recently with one of the best bridge-drives of my life.  If you have a chance, I highly recommend the stretch of I-10, from about 10 miles east of Pensacola (Florida) to a little west of New Orleans (Louisiana) along Lake Pontchartrain (reputed to be among the world’s longest bridge!).

 

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The bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, LA

 

The whole drive is filled with long spanses of bridge over bays, marshes, bayous, rivers, and lakes.  You won’t be disappointed!

 

 

To GPS or not to GPS

I guess it was time.  Maps are getting harder and harder to find.  Although, after a couple of weeks with “Naggy” (as we’ve named it), I’m still not fully sold on our new Garmin GPS.  I think it’s really more that I resent needing it… but deep inside, I know that it’s become a necessity in today’s world.

Living this simple (and modest) lifestyle these days, we’re always on our guard against acquiring things.  After all, when you’re living in a van, you just don’t have room for extra “stuff.”  What we do have has to be deliberate, functional and practical.

Granted, by most people’s standards, a GPS falls in that category.

We decided on a lower-end version of the GPS, as we really don’t care about all the bells and whistles. (Remember, we’re aiming for a simplified lifestyle… not one filled with modern complications.)  We wanted something that would: 1) tell us where we are if we get lost, 2) help us find our way to our destination.  That’s all we needed.  Of course, it came with a few other features, but we haven’t really used them yet.


(This is the version of GPS we purchased – click the image to see pricing,)

Our first experience with “Naggy” was a bit frustrating, but offered some good “lessons.”  First off, it didn’t come with instructions.  It would seem that you have to download the instruction manual from the web.  Now, that might not seem like a big deal to most people.  But, we were on the road when we bought it.  We don’t have “fancy phones” so our internet access is limited.  To say that this was frustrating is a bit of an understatement.

First lesson:  If you’re buying an electronic item while traveling, plan to have/find internet access shortly thereafter (if you’d like to have the instruction manual available).

Our next destination was a free camping spot near Pensacola.  The campground’s a park on Florida Fish & Wildlife land, and we weren’t sure what it was going to be like.  Additionally, we weren’t yet comfortable with the GPS.  So we did some internet research ahead of time, and noted the GPS coordinates for the campground.

As a backup, we wrote down actual directions from the free camping website that introduced us to the campground.  We’re so very glad we did.  By the time we were near the campground, it was dark. The main road nearest to the campground was under construction and wasn’t well lit.  Access to the side roads was sketchy, to say the least.  Our GPS kept trying to rout us to roads that weren’t there, or that we couldn’t get to.

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The packed sand road to the campground.

So, we followed the written directions instead.  Once off the main road, the secondary road was packed sand.  The GPS still tried to route us through side roads – but these roads were unmaintained and sandy.  (Keep in mind that this driving was all happening after dark in an area we’d not been before. )  Had we taken any of those routes, I’m convinced we would’ve ended up stuck in in the sand in a remote section of the jungle (in the middle of the night).  This is what earned it the name “Naggy.”

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The Garmin directing us to take an unmaintained sandy road into the jungle.

Lesson Two:  It’s a good idea to have backup (written) directions, especially if you’re traveling to a remote area that’s unfamiliar.  

Lesson Three:  Don’t just follow the GPS’s instructions blindly.  Assess the situation.  They’re not always right.  If what it’s directing you to do looks questionable or risky, you might consider an alternate route.

All that said, we have used the GPS more, and have found it handy under most circumstances.  I don’t like Naggy, but I’m glad we have it.

BUT, we still (and will likely always) prefer printed maps.  Our favorite is by far the Delorme Gazetter maps (one map book per state). Click the image below for pricing and info.

They’re very detailed and have nearly every road you could imagine shown for the entire state. We’re working on acquiring a full set, based on the states we travel to.  (But that’s going to take a while.) Plus, with so many printed items going “out of print,” we want to have a set before they disappear.  They’re a good backup, and give you confidence and a sense of independence when you’re on the road.

Free Camping: Near Pensacola, FL

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Free Campsite on the bay near Pensacola, FL

If you’re looking for a free campsite that’s not far from Pensacola and the beaches, this might fit the bill. The Escribano Point Wildlife Management Area has a lovely little rustic campground beneath the live oaks and right on the east shore of Blackwater Bay. 

Note: There are a few potential downsides that you’ll want to consider also (see the end of this post.)

As far as free camping goes, this is one we’d come back to.  The site is removed from the hustle and bustle, but near enough that an easy 15 minute drive puts you near whatever you might need.  The campground is several miles from the road, so there is absolutely zero road noise.  You’re surrounded by a beautiful Florida forest of live oaks, pines, and palmettos.  What’s more, the campground borders the bay with a small shoreline beach. (Or, if you end up on the “Bayou Side” campground, it’s smaller and is on the marsh.)

campground beach

Small beach at the free Scribing Point Campground

The campground is well maintained, and the sites are all clearly marked.  Each site is clearly defined also, with split rail fence between you and your neighbor. The campsites are all partly shaded from the strong sun by the live oaks.  This is dry camping, so there is no running water and no bathhouse.  There are a couple of porta-potties.  And there are bear-proof trashcans about also.  Each site has a picnic table and fire pit.

You can fish, swim or kayak the bay.  There are also a few hiking trails near the campground. The Blackwater River State Park’s within an easy driving distance. 

Navarre Beach

Free public beach on the Florida Gulf is only 20 min away from the campground

The free public beach (Navarre beach) is only a 20 minute drive.  Besides just the sheer enjoyment of a day at the beach, swimming in the emerald colored Gulf, there are showers of sorts at most of the beaches.  They’re out in the open, so swim suits are required!  But, it provides a handy way to get a shower in when you’re dry camping.  The cool water from the shower feels heavenly after a swim in the Gulf.  Plus, with a little effort and creativity, you can use the showers to fill your camping water jugs.

View from Navarre Fishing Pier

View of the Gulf and beach from the Navarre Beach Pier

There’s also a man-made snorkeling reef near Navarre.  And Navarre Beach has a lovely pier that extends way out over the beautiful gulf.  It’s $1 daily entrance fee for spectators and $7 for fisherman, but that price buys you access to the pier all day.  Pack a picnic and make an afternoon of it!

The town of Navarre is only 15 minutes away from the campground, and has nearly all the conveniences you might need, including: fast food restaurants with Wi-Fi, Winn Dixie (grocery), Walmart, etc.  On the way to Navarre you’ll pass an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts  and a Laundry also.  There are plenty of gas stations around as well.

Some important things you’ll want to consider:

  • This campground is by reservation only.  It is patrolled several times a day, so if you try to squat on an unclaimed site, you will be asked to leave.  As a positive, you can know that, if you have a reservation, your site will be available for you.
    Note:  If you make a reservation, but end up not coming… please cancel your reservation.  Otherwise, you’re keeping others from enjoying the park. 
  • Besides being a “dry” campground in terms of potable water, it is also a “dry” campground in terms of alcohol.  No alcohol is permitted in sight (or technically, in possession).  Did I mention that the campground is patrolled regularly?  If caught, they can ask you to leave.
  • The reservation website promotes some of the campsites as waterfront.  They are more like “water-view” than waterfront, with a fenced walking area for all the campground guests between you and the bayshore.  Sites 1-8 are along the waterfront, but with a greenbelt that all campers share between you and the water.  Sites on the perimeter away from the bay (#9 & #10) have a little more privacy, but the greenery blocks the slight (but oh so needed) night breezes off the water.  The sites along the bay seem to get more of the breeze.  Here’s the (bayside) campground map: 

    Bayside Campground Map

  • There is a solar streetlight over the porta-pottie area.  If you happen to end up in site # (11), your camp will be VERY well lit at night.
  • The campground is surrounded (literally) by the nearby Air Force base.  While the landing strip is on the other side of the main road, it’s enough of a distance away that you don’t feel like the airplanes are landing on your head.  However, frequently (at night) you’ll hear them practicing their drills.  It sounds like fireworks.  Also, they have some sort of a rifle training range back in the woods.  You don’t see it, but you can sometimes hear them practicing drills at night.
  • There are restrictions about running generators on campers overnight.
  • It is Florida.  Be prepared for bugs, and lots of tiny little biting ants.

Lastly, DO NOT follow your GPS’s advice to find this campground.  It’ll try to take you off on unmaintained sand roads (on Air Force property) to parts unknown.  Stay on Wolf Choctaw Road until you get to Choctaw Field Road (you’ll have to turn, as the road is otherwise barricaded).  Stay on that road until you get to the campground. 

To make your reservation:  http://myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/lead/escribano-point/camping/