Saturday, November 19, 2016
Left or Right?
No, I'm not talking politics. Haven't we all had enough of that for a bit?
I was thinking back to previous years when my lovely wife and I spent winters traveling. We did a lot of camping and not a lot of planning. After a few days of camping we'd pack up and drive to the main road. Then we'd ask each other: left or right? It was pretty much a coin toss which way we'd head.
Sometimes we'd stumble into some amazing places. Other times we'd find ourselves out in the middle of nowhere, darkness moving in, and no place to stay. That's part of the fun. If it always went smoothly it wouldn't be an adventure. Over the years we found a lot of places that were worth going back to. Our traveling was a bit less random as we'd want to end up in certain areas sooner or later.
In more recent years we've discovered that a bit of planning is required for prime areas. If you want to camp in a primitive campground in the middle of the Everglades, a reservation might not be needed. A state park with nice facilities in the Florida Keys where you can camp on the beach . . . well, that's a bit harder to do.
People reserve campsites almost a year in advance. While it's not impossible to pull up to a popular campground and get a site without reservations, don't count on it. The odds are low. Not only that, in a lot of popular places they've cracked down on stealth camping. At one time if we couldn't get into a park we had stealth camping options. In places like the Keys there are very few good stealth camping spots left. The cops are cracking down hard too.
Even though popular campgrounds book up months in advance, we could usually put together a trip just a week or two's warning. That requires a good Internet connection. Just about everybody uses http://www.reserveamerica.com/. Love 'em or hate 'em, they are often the only game in town.
So, for example, you go to their site looking for a nice week in the Florida Keys. You may find that all the sites in a campground are booked. However, one thing about people booking so early is that there are cancellations. A lot can happen in a person's life between the time they book and the time they plan on vacationing. Those sites don't stay open very long. If you see them, get them.
Rarely will you find a whole week free. Usually 2 or 3 days together aren't too hard. Here's what we'd do. We might end up with 3 days in Key Largo, a couple more days at Long Key, then maybe some more days at Bahia Honda Key. Once in a while we'd bridge a booking gap by taking a day or two in private campgrounds.
We like to stay in the Florida State Park system. They have great campgrounds if you are into nature. Prices are usually cheaper than private campgrounds. Not that they are cheap in the Keys, but everything is relative.
Federal campgrounds can be some of the best deals and discount cards are available for people on disability or retired. Unfortunately there are no Federal Camping sites in the Keys, but there are some in other parts of southern Florida. The remote Everglades campground in Flamingo comes to mind.
A hard winter up north will bring the snowbirds down in droves so campgrounds fill up quickly. While it's fun to decide your route with a coin flip getting a place to stay might be a toss up too. Of course, there's always traveling off-season if you want to ramble at random.