We get asked this question a lot, and the answer is usually “it depends.”
As a way to illustrate how this process sometimes happens let me see if I can walk you through the process we took today.
Tanks for the Direction
We are in a county park in Lorton, VA. We have only electric hookups so are running on our tanks for fresh water coming in and gray/black water going out. Our site happens to be positioned close enough to a spigot that I can connect my two hoses together and get additional fresh water if need be.
If the outgoing gray/black water tanks get full, however, then we need to hitch up the trailer and go to the dump station. Needless to say we’d rather only do that if we are actually heading out as it’s an involved process only to return back to the same campsite (some people keep ‘blue buddies’ or smaller tanks on wheels for situations like this).
Oh, and I can’t actually get an accurate reading on my tank levels. There are buttons on the wall that pretend to do just that but are about as accurate as a teenager wearing ‘drunk goggles’ during driver’s training. We basically know the gray tank is full when the sink stops draining, and the black tank we know is getting close when the toilet starts to “burp” a little bit when flushing.
It’s a holiday weekend (Columbus Day), it’s raining and the forecast has rain through the entire long weekend. We are currently booked here until Saturday morning but I think we could hold out another day or maybe two on our tanks.
We have been busy and have been on a schedule since leaving Michigan over a week ago. We’re tired. I had planned an agenda-free day yesterday but recovering from the flat tire consumed it.
We wanted to just stay put another day but when we went up to extend our stay we found that our site is booked. Who’s going to come in on the Saturday of a rainy weekend in the off-season? We could move to another site but once all hitched up we usually just like to head down the road.
So, we need to figure out where to go. We haven’t visited new natural places for a while so are in the mood for some hiking or kayaking with pretty views. The leading contenders are the Shenandoah National Park & Skyline Drive to the west or the Great Dismal Swamp to the south.
We’ve seen just a bit of the Skyline drive and with the possibility of fall color it might be a nice time to go. We also have an offer for driveway parking in that direction (and from a fellow RV owner so we know they know what we need).
Distance-wise it’s less than 100 miles so a relatively easy drive for us.
Shenandoah has a couple of campgrounds that accommodate RV’s but have no hookups. We are untested in that mode - I think we could do two nights running just on battery for power.
I expect some client work which means I need to look at cell coverage and worry about my laptop battery life. Checking Verizon coverage there is none inside Shenandoah - which is typical. The dead zone around the park is big so we’d have to stay an hour out to get cell coverage and day-trip into the park. Again, this is typically how we end up enjoying National Parks so it’s nothing unexpected.
Checking the forecast, however, shows solid rain for the next 5-6 days. It’s no fun to be in a scenic National Park but not able to enjoy a nice sunny day to see the color.
Or Great Dismal Swamp
So we look to the Great Dismal Swamp. I have to admit, the biggest reasons I want to go there is the name and the fact that no one seems to know about it.
The swamp is in both VA (as a National Park) and in NC (as a State Park). Even though we follow the blogs of 100+ traveling families we have never seen reference to this place. It was part of the Underground Railroad, has a canal that can be kayaked etc.
The weather forecast in the area looks more favorable, still some rain from this current front but then clearing out faster. Temperatures are just a bit higher.
Checking cell coverage there is again none within the park itself but there is a smaller dead zone around the park - so we should be able to stay closer and still get signal.
Distance-wise it’s further away from our current location but still within our desire to drive less than 4 hours each day. It does take us down busy I-95 but on a weekend and away from DC so maybe the traffic won’t be as bad.
There are no camping facilities within the Swamp itself so we have to find a suitable campground. The first one we find has a decent website and the rate is reasonable at just over $30/night for water & electric hookups. Then we notice the “kid-tax” at an additional $5/night/child. $40/night for not even full hookups is more than we like to spend. Checking the campground review sites shows some not-favorable comments (but interestingly, a $27/night rate that the website doesn’t mention).
A second campground option mentions no kid tax but is in the same price range - $38/$41 a night - but for full hookups (so what the other park offers plus a sewer connection). This park has favorable reviews.
These two campgrounds seem to be the only ones within reasonable driving distance to the Great Dismal Swamp. We might be able to find something cheaper further away but then we eat up any savings in campground fees buying gas getting back to what we came to see in the first place.
Just to further muddy the choice, the nicely-reviewed campground is 45 minutes from the kayak launch-point in the swamp that we really want to visit. The lower-reviewed campground is only 10 minutes away.
Calling the better-reviewed but further away campground finds that they are fully booked - so they aren’t even an option.
Making the Call
Calling the lower-reviewed park they do have openings and took our Good Sams card for a discount getting our nightly rate down to $36/night rate.
I booked three nights - hopefully enough to get us a one nice-weather day of exploring the Great Dismal Swamp. We could probably extend a night here if need be - we’ll be past the holiday and mid-week again which usually means we can extend with no problem.
So there’s the answer to “how do you choose where to go” for one move. This work consumed a solid 3-4 hours of research, several iPhone apps and a bunch of web searches.
Usually MsBoyink handles the details of these decisions but in this case I wanted to give her a break and also be able to write this blog post up so handled all of it.
With a 4-hour drive awaiting we’ll probably get a bit picked up yet tonight and get an early start on the day. We’ll have to use the dump station on the way out of this park which adds at least 1/2 hour to the ‘getting on the road’ process. The truck also needs gas and I’ll book out and gas up yet tonight as it’s easier without the trailer on the back.