Why We Decided to Stop Traveling Full Time

925 days.

16,807 miles.

19 states.

96 different overnight site locations.

2 countries.

18 national parks.

 

Listing the stats of our full-time travel as above reminds us of how much we’ve experienced and how far we’ve traveled, though our last few months on the road have felt anything but adventurous.

When the seriousness of COVID was realized in March, we had just left Southern California where we had spent the winter. We were at a state park in Southern Nevada and had an amazing itinerary ahead of us: Some fantastic state parks in Southeastern Nevada; the Mighty 5 in Utah; Mesa Verde and Great Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado; a brief stay in the Rapid City area for a doctor’s appointment; and then on to Minnesota and Wisconsin to spend time with family and celebrate holidays, a high school graduation, sporting events, and birthdays. We were then going to explore more of Wisconsin, the state we grew up in. We also had a large part of our winter mapped out, and we were finally going to hit the Southeast and East Coast: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, etc. We researched and planned and mapped and reserved sites the day they become available, anywhere from 6 to 13 months in advance. We woke up a handful of mornings before 5am in California to book sites that became available at 8am in Florida. We. Had. A. Plan.

And then it got blown up.

State parks started to close. Then national parks. Then counties and states started imposing non-resident travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine requirements. When a lot of our full-timing cohorts got off the road to shelter in place with family, we stayed out there. We didn’t really have anywhere to go, so we stayed as socially distant as possible and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t receive a knock on the door, email, or phone call saying we needed to move on because our current location was closing. After three reservations in a row were cancelled, we finally found a private RV park in Torrey, Utah to settle in for a month while we regrouped and figured out our next move. The uncertainty was uncomfortable. We felt in our gut that COVID was sticking around for a while and questioned whether we wanted to continue traveling during a time when the best thing to do is stay home as much as possible.

And we decided we didn’t.

We didn’t want to keep traveling at this time for a handful of reasons, some of which became more apparent as the weeks and months went by:

  • Above all, we wanted to stay healthy. And we wanted those around us to stay healthy.
  • It just wasn’t that fun to be on the road during a pandemic. People always asked us how long we were going to live this lifestyle, and our reply was always we’d stop when we didn’t enjoy it anymore. We weren’t enjoying it much, mainly for the reasons listed below.
  • It’s too damn busy out there now. A number of people around the country have turned to RVing as their preferred way to travel this summer. It’s wonderful that families are finding new ways to vacation and spend time together, but the huge uptick in RV sales and rentals means there are a lot fewer places to stay. And crowds. Campgrounds that are usually nowhere near capacity are now booked with a line out the gate waiting to get a site. A lot of people are visiting national parks during their travels, many for their first time – and they’re trashing them. Vandalism, trash, avoidable run-ins with wildlife, and human excrement have now become common place.
  • In our experience, many people aren’t being as cautious as they should be. This makes us incredibly uncomfortable and reinforces the importance of finding a safe place where we can live comfortably and keep ourselves healthy. Wear a mask and distance yourself from others whenever possible!
  • We knew when we decided to live in an Airstream we were giving up space. However, we were perfectly fine with that knowing that in return, we’d be visiting beautiful places and having some pretty great experiences. Well, when there’s a pandemic and it’s best to stay home, that once quaint and cozy small space feels smaller.

So, friends, we bought a condo in Bozeman, Montana. We had spent time in Bozeman the last two summers and really enjoyed our visits. We’ve been fond of our travels through Montana in general, and in fact, Montana is the state we’ve spent the most time in outside of California (where we would spend the winter months).

Why Bozeman?

We love its location. Three national parks – Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier – are all within a 5-6 hour drive. Bozeman is a very outdoors-oriented town, catering to hiking, fishing, mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, and various other outdoor activities. Montana’s busiest airport is in Bozeman, which is important for when business trips become a thing again. While the cost of living is higher here than in other parts of the country, we find it affordable after living in San Diego County for seven years. When considering a place to settle down, we always wanted to make sure it was somewhere where we wouldn’t have to sell the Airstream due to budget constraints. Bozeman also has some great restaurants and breweries, and is incredibly dog friendly, if we ever decide to get another pupper. Also, Bozeman residents seem to be very active and welcoming. Have I mentioned that Bozeman is beautiful? From the cute downtown to the endless trails and green spaces to the mountains in all directions, the landscape really sold us.

What does this mean?

Well, it means we will no longer be living in an Airstream full time. Instead, we’ll be spending part of the year in our spacious-to-us 1100ft2 two bed, two bath condo with doors that offer privacy, a large fridge, a washer & dryer, and a king-size bed. We will definitely still travel in the Airstream as much as we can. In spite of the reasons we chose to stop full timing, we still love it and can’t imagine not traveling. There are so many places we want to visit and revisit, we’ll just do it more sporadically. In fact, we have plans for a 3-week trip to northern Washington soon, but are waiting out the heat and crowds before we embark. I think we’ll really enjoy having the luxury to decide when we travel and when we don’t.

 

Limited Options in Bozeman, Montana

There’s just something about Bozeman, Montana that has drawn us back for the third year in a row. That something is definitely not an array of options for RVers, however. There are three RV parks/campgrounds within the city, and none of them are anything to write home about. We stayed at Bozeman Hot Springs Campground and RV Park the last two years, and you can read about those visits here and here. The other two options are Bozeman Trail Campground (formerly Sunrise Campground, which is how it’s still listed on Campendium) and Bear Canyon Campground. Another option is the Gallatin County Fairgrounds as well as a handful of national forest campgrounds.

When we were in Bozeman last year, we drove through Bozeman Trail Campground and Bear Canyon Campground to see what the other options offered. At the time, they both seemed average-ish, with smaller sites that were close together. Even though it’s pricy and some of the sites are not nearly as nice as others, in our opinion, the hot springs campground is the nicest place to stay in Bozeman.

Bozeman Trail Campground

31842 Frontage Road, Bozeman, MT 59715

www.bozemantrailcampground.com

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • Playground
  • Dog Run
  • Propane Fill
  • Wifi

Bozeman Trail is the closest to what the city has to offer, being literally a 1-minute drive from Bozeman’s historic downtown. Bozeman Trail was also the only place open for us to stay when we made our way to Bozeman this year. We arrived May 2nd, and the hot springs didn’t open until May 15th and Bear Canyon didn’t open until June 1st. I don’t know if those are the opening dates every year or if they delayed opening due to COVID-19. Speaking of which, the fairgrounds and area national forest campgrounds were all closed due to COVID when we arrived. So, Bozeman Trail was literally our only option.

I had tried to glean from a number of reviews as well as Google Map satellite images what the best sites were — and I think we actually did end up with the best site. We made our reservation online, I selected site 37, and a message popped up stating that they can’t guarantee the specific site I chose unless I pay a $25 site lock fee. Seriously? Even though I definitely wanted site 37, as it was a pull-through at the end of a row, I did not pay the fee and hoped for the best. The day before we arrived, I called Bozeman Trail to request a non-contact check in and get our site number. We had done this at the last three places we stayed — actually, the last three places we stayed had contacted us. When I hadn’t heard from Bozeman Trail, I called to get our site number and they said they wouldn’t definitively know our site until the next day when we arrived. I then asked if I was able to call as we were pulling in to find out our site number so that we could have a non-contact check in and she said no, she needed me to come in to sign something. Again, seriously? During this pandemic, we kept our traveling to a minimum and our contact with others to none except for grocery stores, and that’s all we were trying to do here. But we weren’t allowed to and it pissed me off.

The next day, we arrived, I went in the office and found that zero precautions were being taken to protect staff or guests. I was wearing a mask, but the employee was not. There was no partition in place. She stood behind a podium and expected me to stand a foot away from her while signing a paper that didn’t need to be signed and writing down our license plate numbers that could have been collected during the reservation process. I grabbed the paper, walked over to a table, and signed it with my own pen. I returned to the truck and we followed a guy in a golf cart to our site. Between the site lock fee and the lack of COVID-19 precautions, we already didn’t feel great about this place.

Site 37 is on the end of a row of pull-thru sites that face every other way so that you share a front yard with your neighbor. However, seeing as 37 is on the end, we did not share a front yard, but had a decent sized grassy area. The parking pad was gravel, narrow, and a bit unlevel. It seemed as though they had just put in a new sewer hookup, because the area around the hookups was dirt, though this time of year it’s actually mud. The hookups were pretty spread out, but we didn’t have an issue hooking the electric up at the back of the site and hooking the water up towards the front of the site. Our site was large enough to park the truck, but I’m not sure that would be possible in all sites.

The campground itself is decent. The layout of some sites is a little wonky, and at first glance, it seems really run down, but that’s only because there were a number of rigs that looked as though they could never hit the road again. There are a number of RVers that get frustrated with places that have an age limit on RVs, but this campground is an example of why some places choose to have an age limit. Could it use some sprucing up? Yes; however, if you can look past some of the dilapidated vehicles, this place is okay. Ish.

But, the noise. Oh my goodness, the noise! The noise is unlike anything else we have ever experienced. The campground is nestled between a frontage road that has an active train track running parallel and I-90. This is the absolute loudest place we have ever stayed. We are not normally disturbed by highway noise or a distant train, but here, the noise was endless. And even with the door and windows closed, we could still hear the traffic. The train ran a number of times through the night, whistle and all. Some reviews for Bozeman Trail say the noise isn’t that bad, so I don’t know if it was the location of our site, or we have overly sensitive hearing, or those reviewers have diminished hearing, but it was bad. The noise is our main complaint and the reason we hope we’d never have to stay here again.

We didn’t use any of the amenities, so I can’t comment on those. They claim to have a playground, but it consists of one swing and one of those little boxy, plastic Little Tykes-type play sets. There are plenty of places to dispose of trash throughout and as I said earlier, the location can’t be beat for visiting downtown Bozeman.

Site 37 fit our 27′ Airstream and tuck without issue. When most other sites had picnic tables, we had that weird permanently-in-the-ground table.
Our front door faced the gravel campground road, but it wasn’t bothersome.