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Potluck camping

Our “no reservations” policy is being sorely tested.   All along our route since we got to east Texas, campgrounds have been hard to get into.   We snagged the last two spots at Pecan Grove in Austin, among the last spots at Bayou Segnette near New Orleans, and today we were skunked at three places in the Florida panhandle: Henderson Beach State Recreation Area, Topsail, and Grayton.

We normally don’t worry about being turned away, for two reasons.   First, we usually avoid popular places during popular times.   Our last trips through the panhandle were in March and December, and we had little trouble staying wherever we wanted, except around Spring Break.

Second, we are not normally concerned with being at a specific campground.   If one is full, we keep on truckin’ in the general direction we were heading and find something else.   This has given us some of our most memorable adventures and encouraged us to try places that we otherwise wouldn’t consider.   That may sound bad, but in most cases it has been very rewarding.

But we are traveling with other people now, and this has forced a change in pattern.   I can’t get our friends to appreciate the irresponsible joy of “potluck camping.” Like most people, they would like to have a plan, and know where they are going.   It’s not comfortable for them to go bare and take what comes at the end of the day.

I can understand that.   People with limited time want to get the most out of that time, and a couple of nights in a grungy campground with no view (or a Wal-Mart, if things really go awry) is disappointing when they were hoping for the beachfront.   We’re more willing to accept the occasional night sleeping behind an industrial building or gas station that most people because we know it all evens out over time … and as full-timers, we have the advantage of time.

Also, I think most people like to have some certainty at their destination.   There’s a comfort that comes from pulling into a campsite at the end of a long day where you have a clearly delineated space that is designated as yours, a gate up front to keep strange events at bay, and a welcoming staff that wants you to be there.

It takes a certain personality to look forward to the challenge of driving into a strange town,   and completely winging it on the campground.   It’s an even rarer personality who, if traditional camping fails, enjoys scouting out the parking lots, churches, and local parking laws, and then picking some spot where you may not be completely welcome.   Most people aren’t up for that possibility when they are tired from a long day of driving, but we’re used to it.

But not when we are two RVs traveling together.   It’s too much to ask that people follow us around town while we hunt for odd little overnight parking spots.   Eleanor and I have a very finely honed process for determining where we will stay, which we know well but have trouble explaining to others.   From where they are, looking at our taillights on the highway, I’m sure it looks like a completely random and confidence-sapping process.

Today, after being told the bad news by the staff at Henderson Beach SRA, we had a moment of group flustration while we considered the options.   The state beach parks are very popular this time of year and reservations are a good idea, but until a couple of days ago we didn’t know for sure when we’d be here.   There were commercial campgrounds with availability, but they were either outrageously expensive “resorts” (one place we tried was $79 per night, not surprisingly it had lots of open spaces), or really lame wrong-side-of-the-highway places.

In the end, it took Adam’s marvelous skill at ingratiating himself with people to get us into St Andrews State Recreation Area, in Panama City FL.   It’s a popular place, and the staff wouldn’t promise us a spot over the phone.   Eleanor called and got no useful information, but Adam called a few minutes later and somehow managed to do considerably better.

When we arrived at St Andrews, there were at least a dozen open sites, but since it was after hours we were not able to verify if we can have them for more than one night.   In the morning we’ll check in with the office and see if we can stay a bit longer.   Now that we are here, it looks like a nice place to hang out for a few days.   So it worked out.   After all, we wouldn’t have come here if we had made reservations somewhere else.

Our coordinates:   30 ° 8’5.46″N     85 °44’5.94″W

2 Responses to “Potluck camping”

  1. Tiger Woods Says:

    We almost always have bad luck calling from the road in the manner you described. We almost always have good luck when we get there and my dear wife goes in to check things out personally. We also don’t mind the occasional overnight pit stop at a Cracker Barrel. (Our 7-year old just loves going to a restaurant still in his jammies.) And I’m sure you know that lots of campgrounds have 1 site off to the side… just in case. But traveling with another rig must be a whole different situation. I can’t even imagine all the little details that must go into pulling off a successful caravan of 20 or more rigs for a long period of time!

    Keep on truckin’!

  2. Roger Says:

    While my parents owned the KOA in Redding we used to have a whole field just for overflow. Many people were more than happy to just have a spot to stop and get a shower.