Cross-Country Relocation: our apocalyptic road trip during a pandemic
I posed the question of what to write about our cross-country relocation from the Seattle area to Saint Augustine, Florida because we did it in such a strange time. I wasn’t even sure where to start, because the move was so crazy and during a pandemic, it was even more bizarre. So, I’m writing a series about this whole experience!
We had tons of questions before we started our cross-country drive, a few harsh judgments, and then lots of support and suggestions about how to be the most safe. Well, our relocation road trip took all of those things into consideration as we set out across the USA to build a new life in Florida.
What you'll find...
- Why we moved to Florida
- Purchasing a camper trailer for the move
- Observations from a cross-country move during a pandemic
- Empty towns during the shutdown
- Non-contact transactions… everywhere
- Salt Lake City: OMG, do you know the world is on fire around you?
- Driving past our bucket list destinations
- Awesome road trip stops we DID get to make
Why we moved to Florida
First off, I wrote a great article all about blog goals, life goals, and why relocating to Florida is the right thing for our family, so I would love for you to read it. But to recap, moving to Florida allows us to live mortgage-free in the sunshine, surrounded by nature, warmth, and opportunities.
Check out our article and listen to our podcast episode about the decision making process and experience of moving across the country.
We have spent so much time exploring Florida and we love it, so it makes sense to move our lives to a place where we’ve found so much happiness AND where the costs are so minimal that we can work towards complete financial freedom… and freedom from economic collapse (but to dream…)
Speeding up the move
When we first were looking at homes in Florida, there was no pandemic. When we started the buying process on our new house, there was a buzz about some sort of sickness but no real information in American mainstream media, and there certainly wasn’t a problem in Washington or Florida.
Fast forward a few weeks and the truth started to come out. People in China, Italy, other European countries, and now the USA were getting sick and dying. It was real and it was big. We started to see “shelter in place” and “lock-down” be used in different states and cities. We realized that our move was in danger of being restricted or outright stopped, so we talked with our real estate agent and she was able to speed things up.
Julie, our agent, was amazing and coordinated everything so swiftly and we got our closing date moved nearly three weeks up. So now we just had to get packed and get to Florida… but that wasn’t going to happen as we’d initially planned.
Note: we used a moving company for transporting all of our things across the country and WE WILL NEVER RECOMMEND THEM OR THAT PROCESS TO ANYONE. After tons of research the best option turned out to be a disastrous scam. Maybe I’ll write about that too…
Purchasing a camper trailer for the move
Watching the news and planning our cross-country move route, we saw that we needed to be very strategic in our travel plan. We needed to be sure that we’d have safe places to sleep, places to eat, and we even needed to take into consideration bathroom stops. The lack of transparent information from the government and new media made it difficult to understand how cautious and prepared we needed to be, so we decided to fully err on the side of caution, and I’m so glad we did.
We had previously shopped around for a camper trailer so knew what we wanted. We had already done the research around what our car (Subaru Ascent) could tow and what sort of space our family needed. Thankfully we also had been working on building our emergency budget which gave us the means to randomly buy a camper trailer for a cross-country move.
After two days of looking, we actually found our ideal RV / camper trailer and it was even within our budget! We purchased a 2014 Northland 17” camping trailer. We love it! Thank you, Tacoma RV, for making it so easy!
Crash course in RV ownership
You’ll need to read our blog post about shopping for and owning your first camper trailer for the full scoop, but let’s just say that we really did have to do a crash course in learning how to be RV owners. We watched YouTube videos, read a few blog posts, and then made a list of questions for the RV dealer.
When it was finally time to pick up our camping trailer (it takes a few days for prep and inspections) only one of us could be there, so while I got the run down on each of the functions, I took notes and photos. It was a lot to take in and I wish it could’ve happened slower.
But we learned enough and then learned the rest once we were finally on the road. PS: camping rules apply just as much in a camping trailer as with tent camping.
Packing a camping trailer to be self-contained
Being fully self-sufficient was the big goal with purchasing our trailer. This meant that we had to be ready to use the camper for cooking all meals, bathroom stops, sleeping at night… and taking work calls on the road. That’s right, we had to basically turn our new camping trailer into a complete home on wheels very quickly.
We did camping meal planning and shopping in advance so that we wouldn’t have to make any grocery stops anywhere. Before leaving the RV dealership, I was also sure to get plenty of RV / marine toilet paper and bathroom supplies. Bedding was easy, because we just packed all of our regular camping gear, which made it extra fun for the kids.
We also had our cat with us, so we had to get a new cat box that would minimize the mess and smell on the road. Finding an enclosed cat box and spill proof food and water dispensers when online ordering was so backed up that it was a gamble was tricky, but we succeeded. And before we hit the road, we also worked on harness training our kitty so he could go for walks when we stopped. So much to prep!
Observations from a cross-country move during a pandemic
To say that our cross-country relocation experience was unique is an understatement. We knew that we’d see very few travelers on the road, but we weren’t expecting the world to be boarded up. We figured that there would be some pockets of oblivious people, but we didn’t expect metropolitan areas to function like life hadn’t changed for the rest of the world.
Empty towns during the shutdown
We expected this. When we first were planning our cross-country move to Florida, we had the best road trip plan ever… and then Corona hit and plans changed. We knew there would be a lot of closures along our route. We didn’t expect ghost towns.
Twin Falls, ID was silent. Moab, Utah was a combo of flashing neon reading as “CLOSED” or “NO VACANCY.” Colorado campgrounds were shut down. Texas was quiet. Check out this snapshot of pandemic response in Saskatchewan.
One of the strangest experiences happened in Green River, Utah: we pulled into a vacant, seemingly closed roadside motel parking lot. We let the kids get out and do their scooters in the empty lot while we cooked dinner in the camper. We took the cat for a walk and had our meal… And then the police pulled up with lights flashing. Apparently the motel owners were hunkered down watching us and didn’t want us camping there overnight (which we weren’t). It gave us a good startle.
We were really thankful for our camping trailer on our drive, because since National Parks were all closed, the towns that normally would house and service tourists were not functioning… at all. And this extended to many private campgrounds and RV resorts.
Even if we were comfortable dining out during our cross-country relocation, we wouldn’t have been able to. There were a lot of make-shift “Take Out” signs, but also just a lot of closed notices. So strange.
Non-contact transactions… everywhere
Thank goodness there were a lot of proactive travel service providers along our route, but some things really surprised us. I know that the current period really is new territory for all of us, but some of the interactions and moments on our cross-country move surprised us.
Sanitary gas fill-ups during the pandemic
Doing a cross-country relocation with a camping trailer in tow means that you are making a lot of stops for gas. Wow. I knew that our gas mileage would go down, but I didn’t expect it to be only ⅓ of our normal mileage. But with all these stops are gas stations, something really surprised me: there are still pre-pay gas stations in the world where you actually have to go in to the counter and “put $30 on number 4.”
For all of our pumping and paying we had food service gloves from a long time ago that we were able to use and dispose of immediately. And then we also had hand sanitizer in the car as a bonus.
During our whole cross-country relocation trip, we only had three interactions with people… and all three were due to gas stations not having pay-at-the-pump.
Remote camping registration
Since we were driving from Washington to Florida on our cross-country relocation, we knew we’d be crossing through a ton of prime camping territory. Nearly every state and county park campground was closed during the pandemic, but there were several KOAs and privately owned campgrounds available. It was interesting trying to find them.
The KOA (Kampgrounds of America) website was very well updated to make sure that available campgrounds could be booked. For some locations, this required calling instead of using the app or online system, because they were using utmost discretion in only being open to full time RVers or people in transition (like us!). After a few phone calls we were able to secure campsites for each night of our journey.
Note: the reason campgrounds everywhere closed during the pandemic was a mystery to me initially, so I asked a full time RVer. Because campgrounds tend to have so much shared space, even if you are far between campers, it’s difficult to guarantee fully sanitary facilities and interactions between guests. That’s why campgrounds were closed or extremely restricted.
With each campground arrival, registration info and site assignment was completed in advance and payment was made over the phone. We didn’t have to interact with anybody (even though it would’ve been great to connect with another person) to get set up or to check out. Two of the KOA locations we stayed at were really great about communicating via text message.
State Park Online Day Use Reservations
We really tried to make fun stops wherever we could. Doing a cross-country relocation with kids and a cat requires a lot of time burning off energy along the way. Idaho State Parks that remained open were free to visitors so that no interaction had to happen. Utah State Parks were open ONLY to residents of the county in which the park is located.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites are nearly always free with open access, or a state or federal lands pass is required, so those were another option for us depending on where we were.
Another online reservation we made along the way was with Texas State Parks. We would’ve liked to have stopped at several parks, but the online system wasn’t working properly through many attempts. We did have success securing an online day pass for one park, and upon arrival the ranger stayed about ten feet from us and approved our entry using an iPad app.
Seeing how each state handled its public areas was interesting, and I’m so glad that even though we were restricted from visiting a few bucket list spots, locals still could have access to the outdoors.
Salt Lake City: OMG, do you know the world is on fire around you?
I know that during the pandemic in the USA, each state has been given the autonomy of running their precautions and shut down procedures on their own, but Salt Lake City was a shock. As we crossed into Utah from Idaho, we immediately saw more people out and about. Nobody was wearing masks, restaurants were open, and there was traffic on the highway like any other regular rush hour.
We had to pull off the interstate for gas just south of downtown Salt Lake City and it was a totally different world from Washington, Oregon or Idaho. Nobody was distancing, everybody was chatting it up without any precautions, and people were filling up their tanks WITH THEIR ENGINES STILL RUNNING! I’ve never seen that before.
As we got beyond Salt Lake City, the crowds started to dissipate, but even in the suburbs it looked like normal life. I’m curious to see how the Corona impacted SLC…
Driving past our bucket list destinations
You know when you’ve got an opportunity you’ve been waiting for and then you can’t take advantage of it? Or have you ever gotten to plan a trip and you were so excited to see something and then didn’t have access? Ooh, or when you get to visit Disneyland and arrive to have your favorite attractions broken down or under construction?
Yeah, that was nearly every park and point of interest along our drive. We were fortunate to get to visit a few state parks along the way, but all National Park sites were closed. We’d planned on stopping at Craters of the Moon NM, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Mesa Verde NP… So many bucket list destinations, but they were all closed. Even Four Corners Monument, which is a Navajo Nation park and Oliver’s ONLY request for the whole trip, was closed. 🙁
It was fascinating to track my own emotions along the drive. With each moment of not getting to explore the places I’ve dreamed of for years, it felt like the pandemic closures were directed at me. I know that’s ridiculous and selfish, but that’s how I felt. The frustration welled up more and more each day.
By the last day of our cross-country relocation drive I didn’t care anymore and had accepted the fate of what was supposed to be the most incredible family road trip ever. I still felt defeated, but less so. I mean, what’s one more small tragedy in the wake of how Corona has impacted all our lives.
Awesome road trip stops we DID get to make
It wasn’t completely doom and gloom. We actually had some great moments of fun along our cross-country relocation trip. Thankfully, there were several state parks and BLM sites we were able to explore along the way.
The most beautiful sight was actually near our first night’s campground, Twin Falls / Jerome KOA Holiday. We got to wake up and catch Shoshone Falls in the morning light, rainbows all around. It was gorgeous.
Since we didn’t get to go to Mesa Verde National Park, we sought out the next best thing: Canyon of the Ancients National Monument (BLM). We got to check out ancient Anasazi ruins and do a little hiking in the Colorado desert.
Driving through New Mexico, we didn’t get to make any awesome stops really, but we did enjoy the Route 66 murals that nearly every gas station had. True, we didn’t get to play tourist along the famous road, but we did as best we could.
Something I’d seen a million times on Instagram and always been curious about got to get checked off: Cadillac Ranch. Located in Amarillo, Texas Cadillac Ranch gave us a fun place to run and take pictures. The boys loved the unique graffiti art installation and seeing them have fun helped my daily mood.
Instead of focusing on the many Texas parks we couldn’t visit, we were able to secure a day pass for Copper Breaks State Park. It was a little slice of Bryce Canyon National Park mixed with Oregon’s Painted Hills, but in the heart of Texas.
The rest of the way we did zero sightseeing. The combo of closed attractions and a tight driving schedule had us hauling as quickly as possible from Dallas eastward. We did make a list though for doing that route again and enjoying every stop along the way!
Looking back at our strange, apocalyptic road trip for sure I wish we could’ve done it differently, but I’m really thankful that we were able to get to Florida without incident. In the coming years, I think we’ll intentionally retrace our route and enjoy all the stops we possibly can.
Keep a lookout for a few more blog posts about our cross-country relocation, as we’ll be sharing more about planning a cross-country route, learning to become a camping trailer family and more.