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!
Why we Moved to Florida
Check out our article and listen to our podcast episode about the decision making process and experience of moving across the country.
Speeding up the Cross-Country 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.” There are so many amazing things to do in Moab, and we couldn’t do any of them. 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 Utah 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.
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.
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.
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. After this, we decided not to do the extra mileage down to Big Bend National Park that we’d discussed.
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.
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.
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.
Shoshone Falls, Twin Falls, Idaho
What a beautiful sight! With the river cascading down so many levels, it was very impressive. Tip: visit Shoshone Falls in the morning to get the full effect with rainbows EVERWHERE!
Canyon of the Ancients National Monument
This was a great bonus stop. Crossing the border from Utah into Colorado for a little bit, this brought us through Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. It’s a BLM managed site and is wonderfully obscure. Anasazi ruins, trails, and beautiful views made this a favorite stop on our pandemic cross country move.
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.
Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas
This is one of those famous roadside attractions that’s just weird and cool and you have to stop at. Since it’s not terribly far off the freeway, stopping at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas is easy. You just have to walk through the gate, through the field and boom, you’re there. Take some photos, appreciate the wild graffiti and leave.
Copper Breaks State Park, Central Texas
Texas is so much more than just the longest, flattest roads in the USA. Copper Breaks State Park, midway between Amarillo and Dallas, is a great stop for easy hiking, unique geology and even kayaking!
The rest of the way we did zero sightseeing, even as we drove through Mobile, AL (the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the USA). 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.