Those long, leisurely trips traveling the country far and wide – they’re the realization of a dream for many of us and one of the main reasons we purchased an RV. We wanted to experience the destinations we’ve read about and sample the way life feels in different places. And we wanted this special kind of travel that allows us to carry along the comforts of home, while exploring as far from home as the road will take us.
We have enjoyed taking a number of long trips across the country, exploring coastal towns, twisty mountain roads, historic monuments, and national parks. Yet, we are always happy to get back home to reconnect with our family and to rest. The familiar landmarks and welcoming smiles are always a comforting end to our travels and help us to appreciate the place where we live and its unique qualities.
Still, within just a few days of arriving home, we are inevitably back at the computer planning another trip. It’s not that we enjoy getting away from home, but more that we enjoy the adventure of travel, of discovering someplace we don’t know as well as home.
But for many of us, taking one epic trip after another is often more a fantasy than a reality. The shortage of time, energy, or money, or family obligations, can curtail back-to-back adventures and force long trips to take a “backseat”. I know we’re not alone in this dilemma, so what is the adventurous spirit to do? How can we still enjoy travel without launching awesome, epic, RV adventures? Well, you don’t have to stop traveling completely when a big trip ends.
Over the last year, we have become proponents of short trips and weekend getaways in our RV. That usually means staying within a three-to-five-hour drive of our home in Atlanta. It’s a terrific break in our work routine and often quite an effective antidote to the stress that accumulates between vacations. It’s just enough travel to keep that appetite for exploring under control, at least until we can launch another “awesome-epic” trip!
Curiously, short RV trips became more important for us during the current COVID-19 crisis. Leaving home for a short and safe trip meant avoiding crowded tourist attractions, but that’s not difficult when there are so many opportunities for walking, hiking, kayaking, bike riding, or just enjoying a good book in your camp chair. With proper care, we found we could enjoy other activities, too, as long as we were mindful of social distancing and wore masks to keep us and others safer.
Although we could avoid crowded campgrounds by traveling during the week rather than the weekend, we have found most campgrounds offer enough space around each campsite to allow for social distancing. We also brushed up our boondocking skills to take advantage of more secluded places. We found boondocking offers a more immersive outdoor experience, where nature takes center stage. A starry night sky can become an attraction in itself!
Typically these quick trips work out to a short drive to our destination on day one, and then spending a couple of days exploring before taking the short drive home on day four. When time permits, we might extend by a day or two to make another stop on the way home.
You might be wondering where you can go for an RV weekend getaway or a quick trip. How far can you really travel in such a short drive? While that answer depends on where you live, I am quite sure that you can find real adventure and enjoyment within a three-to-five-hour drive from your hometown.
We’ve discovered that a three-to-five-hour drive allows us to broach the state lines to visit Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, or Alabama, and see all the charm they have to offer a weekend visitor. We have spent many short trips enjoying those states, but our favorite way to take a weekend getaway is to explore what is in our own state.
For us, a three-hour drive will take us south to Georgia’s smaller cities with fascinating museums, expansive farms, and wonderful fruit orchards. Going the same distance north takes us to the Georgia mountains, where we find lovely waterfalls, lush forests, hillside wineries, and sparkling lakes. A trip east will take us to the Savannah River, and just a bit more time on the road will find us on the sandy Atlantic beaches of Jekyll Island, touring the old millionaire’s village or the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.
There are so many travel opportunities right here in my own state, and I am always surprised at what I haven’t yet seen. I am often delighted at some little treasure of a place that I can find with just a bit of research.
After a career in tourism, I can say with some authority that the local attractions and sights you take for granted are an adventure for someone else from across the country. What may require cross-country travel for them is a mere weekend getaway for you. So, what if you looked at your home state the way a visitor does?
One of the easiest ways to gain a visitor’s perspective is to access your state’s tourism website. There you will find how the state promotes your area and all the places and things to do around you – and I bet you haven’t visited all of them!
For instance, Jim and I decided not to make any major trips during our home renovations. We didn’t want to venture too far in case the contractors needed a decision. So, we checked out the Explore Georgia website and found a host of places and attractions in our own state that we had never visited.
We camped in the Chattahoochee National Forest, kayaked Lake Blue Ridge, and hiked our way around the north Georgia foothills. We biked the Silver Comet Trail, the cart paths of Peachtree City, and the Greenway Trail in our new hometown of Woodstock. We discovered charming historic towns, small museums, and Native American sites, and we even learned about fly fishing at a custom fly-rod shop while watching the craftsman at work!
If we had been on our preferred travel schedule, motoring across the country, we never would have experienced how much our state has to offer. There are quite a few great campgrounds and well-maintained state parks to stay in, remarkable hiking trails through the foothills (the Appalachian Trail starts/ends in north Georgia), beautiful lakes and rivers to kayak, and a host of urban trails to bike.
Add to all this that a local trip has another unexpected advantage: Although we love to tell our friends and family about our travels around the country, when we explore our home state we can invite them along for the weekend or just for a day’s outing. It’s a short enough drive and timeframe to allow even our busiest friends to join in the fun. And having friends along makes the travel stories funnier as we share our different “takes” on the events we experience together!
If I’ve sold you on the idea of these short “local-ish” trips, you’ll need to take the next steps to prepare yourself and your RV for this ongoing travel option.
First, we have found that if we keep the RV “short-trip-ready”, we will travel most weekends without hesitation. It’s a great time-saver that allows us to leave as soon as work is over, rather than spending travel time getting the unit ready for a trip.
Of course, we do the simple things like keeping the RV clean and making sure we have a supply of clean linens and towels ready. But, we also make sure the pantry is always stocked with enough canned and dry goods for a quick meal. From this point, all we need is to pack our clothes, make a quick trip to the grocery for veggies and fresh food, and we are on the road!
Second, make a “getaway list”. Our “getaway list” of destinations tends to keep growing, both for our state’s destinations and places over the border in neighboring states. This list makes trip planning a breeze. We begin our search by looking for an area with a particular type of activity in mind.
If we want to kayak, we look for destinations with good lake and river access. If we want to hike, we know that there will be flat hiking in the southern part of the state and hilly terrain in the northern part of the state. If beach-time is on our mind, we head for the Savannah area and work our way south towards the Florida border, looking for good beach access and campground availability.
And campgrounds are always part of the research. When we browse destinations, we make sure to identify campgrounds and state parks nearby and then check for any seasonal festivals that might provide for more fun – or to know how they impact local campgrounds!
One of the best ways to create your “getaway list” is to use tourism websites. Start with an internet search for your state’s tourism website; they are often called something like “Explore Georgia” or “Discover South Carolina” or “Visit Florida”. Or, just Google something like “Utah tourism” to find your state’s tourism website.
Most of these websites offer travel itineraries tailored to specific interests like outdoor fun, shopping, art and foodie trails, festivals, or historic sites. Make note of which places, attractions, and “things-to-do” the site is promoting to visitors. Then choose a few destinations that are within a short drive of your home. That’s the start of your “weekend getaway” list! Next, look at fun activities in destinations in the neighboring states just beyond your state’s borders. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your short-trip list fills up. You might consider choosing a destination in your state one weekend, and then trying one in a neighboring state for the next.
Choose just one destination for each weekend getaway so that you can relax and have time to explore what the place has to offer. There’s no rush – there are 52 weekends a year to work through all the great places nearby.
Short trips and local-ish adventures may not be considered “dream travel” fodder by some, but they are a great way to take keep traveling in your RV closer to home. And you just might find them to be the perfect way to use your RV in between those epic-awesome, months-long adventures.