This past year has been full of ups and downs. We started 2019 battling blizzard conditions in Rapid City, SD and will end the year in sunny southern New Mexico. Over the summer, I finally made it to my 50th state and, together, we’ve now visited more than half of the units in the National Park Service.
Unfortunately, this was also the year that we lost Alee, our beloved Camping Kitty. Additionally, we experienced our first major trip interruption when we had to return home 9 days early this summer due to damage to our camper. Thankfully, the repairs needed were not as extensive as we initially expected, but missing out on vacation time is always a bummer.
Still, it’s been a good year and we always enjoy reminiscing a bit as we look back over the highs and lows of this latest trip around the sun.
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January 2019: Rapid City and the Black Hills, SD and Garden of the Gods, CO
Our year started in Rapid City as we explored the Black Hills of South Dakota. We enjoyed playing in the snow at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. This truly is an amazing pocket of the United States, packed with beautiful scenery.
Another highlight of our trip to the Black Hills was finally getting to meet our friends Tom and Kari of the blog Nature Tech Family in real life. After a couple of years of exchanging messages on social media, it was great to finally meet up in their home town of Custer, SD and enjoy a real conversation!
On our way back to Georgia we made a quick stop at Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs, CO. This public park of red rock formations is stunning. The park is located just a few minutes outside of town but feels a world away. We enjoyed hiking and scrambling over the rocks for most of the morning before starting the drive home.
February 2019: Bahamas Cruise
For our February break, we opted for some warmer weather on a Bahamas cruise. Our four-night cruise included stops at Nassau, Grand Bahamas and Great Stirrup Cay, Norwegian’s private island in the Bahamas.
While Nassau was a bit crowded right around the port, we managed to get out of town and away from the crowds. Getting to explore Lucayan National Park on Grand Bahama Island was a real treat. We can only hope that Hurricane Dorian (which hit over Labor Day weekend in 2019) did not spoil too much of the natural beauty in the area.
Following the cruise, we spent one night at the Boca Beach Club by Waldorf Astoria in Boca Raton. This truly was our best use of the free-night certificate from our American Express Ascend card to date. Yes, we ended up spending more than $100 for valet parking, food and drinks but the room was worth nearly $1,000 so we’ll call that a win!
February 2019: Losing Alee
Sadly, the fun of our cruise vacation came to an abrupt halt when we arrived home to a sick kitty. We got Alee to the vet the following Monday and learned that she had a cancerous tumor in her digestive tract. Based on her age and hatred of the vet, we knew we didn’t want to subject her to numerous tests and procedures.
We spent a few days trying to get her some non-invasive relief but soon realized that just wasn’t going to work. After nearly a week of not eating and not using the litter box, we knew we had to say goodbye.
Putting her down was one of the hardest things we’ve had to do but we have no doubt that it was the right decision. We take comfort in knowing that she lived a great life and got to travel with us to some pretty amazing places. Seriously, how many cats can say they’ve been to Yellowstone National Park?
April 2019: Louisiana
For Spring Break, we spent the week visiting the four National Park Sites in Louisiana. These four sites preserve an immense amount of culture and history. At Poverty Point National Monument, you’ll find Native American earthworks. A mixture of French, Spanish and Creole charm and history live on at Cane River Creole National Historical Park.
The six separate sites of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve include a War of 1812 battlefield, several cultural centers and southern Louisiana swamps teeming with wildlife. The fourth site, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, celebrates the history of the people and places that shaped the development of one of America’s most widely recognized musical genres.
While in New Orleans we, of course, spent some time touring many of the famous sights of the city, including Bourbon Street, Cafe du Monde and Jackson Square. New Orleans truly is a melting pot of cultures, tastes and sounds and is a city everyone should visit at least once.
June-July 2019: Great Lakes RV Road Trip
For our big summer road trip, we headed to a new region of the country for us: the Great Lakes. While Grant had previously visited Ohio and Michigan, those were both new states for me. Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin were new states for both of us. Many people had told us we would love the region of the US and they weren’t wrong!
We managed to visit all of the National Park sites in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. We also spent some time in Minnesota and Wisconsin but, unfortunately, missed a few sites when we had to return home early after getting a few “bumps and bruises” on the camper.
The highlight of the summer was our visit to Isle Royale National Park, an island park on Lake Superior. It takes a good amount of time, effort and money to get to Isle Royale, but it is absolutely worth it! We were only able to spend one night there, but we are eager for a return visit to do more hiking and some camping.
Honestly, though, just about everywhere we went along the shores of Lakes Huron, Erie, Michigan and Superior was amazingly beautiful in its own way. All of the National Lakeshores are well worth a visit. The various park sites in Ohio and Indiana offer a glimpse into the history and natural beauty of each state.
Yes, we still need to make it to Lake Ontario and more of upstate New York. We are also eagerly awaiting rescheduling our visit to Minneapolis, the nearby National Rivers and Voyageurs National Park.
Labor Day 2019: St. Petersburg, FL
Since our camper was still in the shop, we took the opportunity to meet up with friends in Florida for Labor Day. As the weekend approached, we kept a watchful eye on Hurricane Dorian, which threatened to cross the Florida peninsula. Thankfully, for the western Florida coast at least, the hurricane stayed in the Atlantic and we enjoyed a beautiful weekend in St. Petersburg.
We were both excited to head out for some deep-sea fishing. Unfortunately, only Grant really enjoyed it as the waves were a bit too much for me. Sadly, I spent most of the trip with my head over the railing. The good part was that as soon as the waves calmed down, I felt much better and was able to enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Kayaking off the dock of our friend’s house and “stalking” a couple of manatees was a real treat! We had hoped to visit De Soto National Memorial in nearby Bradenton, which is the only NPS site in Florida that we haven’t yet visited. Much to our chagrin, the park service closed the park in anticipation of potential tropical storm or hurricane conditions. Perhaps we’ll return next year and try again!
September 2019: Rocky Mountain National Park & Custer State Park
For our September Break, we were fortunate to work with Outdoorsy on an RV rental in Denver, CO that allowed us to squeeze in a road trip out west with only a week off. After flying to Denver, we picked up a rented camper van. From there, we spent three days camping and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and two days in Custer, SD enjoying the annual Buffalo Roundup at Custer State Park.
While the camper van was a little cramped compared to our 27-foot trailer, we absolutely loved renting from Outdoorsy.
Getting to experience the elk rut at Rocky Mountain NP was a real treat! Three days is just about the perfect amount of time at Rock Mountain, though you could easily spend longer there. And visiting in September, after the summer rush and before winter weather closes much of the park is, perhaps, one of the best times of the year.
Returning to Custer State Park a mere 9 months after our last visit was a bit unusual for us. Getting the see the Buffalo Roundup was amazing, though. We love all things bison, so this was the perfect event for us. And we got to return to one of our favorite campgrounds, Big Pine RV Park in Custer.
October 2019: Cabin with Friends in North Georgia
While it wasn’t a big sightseeing trip, we did enjoy a weekend with friends at a cabin in North Georgia. Seriously, once we arrived at the cabin, we didn’t leave until it was time to check out. But, with college football on TV, a hot tub, gorgeous views, games, good friends and plenty of food and drinks, we didn’t have any reason to leave.
We found a fabulous cabin with 6 bedrooms, all with a king or queen bed for a great price on AirBnB. The views alone were well worth the price. The amenities and comfort were an added bonus. We’ve done a big weekend away with friends a couple of times now and we hope we can make it happen again soon!
November 2019: Rossville, GA
Unfortunately, this was another trip that really wasn’t much of a trip. When you have an RV one thing you have to do is get it prepped for the winter and freezing temperatures. Since our camper is stored at a facility with no electricity or sewer hookups, this means we have to head to a campground for a night or two to get things done.
Usually, we are able to combine this with a fun trip. Due to the camper being serviced and other scheduling conflicts, we weren’t able to actually plan anything this year. Thus, we headed to the Holiday Travel Park of Chattanooga, which is actually in Rossville, GA.
We’ve been to Chattanooga a couple of times, so we decided this time to just enjoy a relaxing weekend watching football instead of sightseeing. On Sunday morning we were able to drain the water lines and get everything properly winterized.
Thanksgiving 2019: Tallahassee, FL
When you have two sets of divorced parents seeing everyone during the holidays can be difficult, especially when you add in the fact that we like to travel when we have time off. It’s not always easy, but we always do our best to balance out who we spend various holidays with and try to keep everyone happy.
This year we spent Thanksgiving in Tallahassee with my family. Thankfully, both of my parents and sister live there, which does help to minimize the craziness a bit. We had hoped to do some local sightseeing while there but ended up only having time for one quick trip to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge. Overall, it was a relaxing week and it was nice to not be super busy seeing a lot of sights.
December 2019: El Paso, TX & Southern New Mexico
With two weeks off from school at Christmas, it is a little easier to see family AND do some traveling. That’s exactly what we did this year. We started by spending an afternoon with Grant’s mom, stepdad, sister, brother-in-law and three nieces. The next day we made a quick trip to Tallahassee for Christmas with my family.
From Tallahassee, we headed west to finally do the road trip we originally planned for last year – the national park sites in El Paso and Southern New Mexico. This trip got canceled last year due to the government shut down. Granted, we loved our time in Rapid City, but we almost always prefer a good national park trip. And we certainly enjoy avoiding a government shutdown!
We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day driving I-10 to get to El Paso. We’ve learned over the years, though, that driving on Christmas is not a bad deal as there generally isn’t much else you can do since most everything is closed plus the roads are pretty empty.
In El Paso, we visited Chazimal National Memorial and explored the city. From there, we headed a couple of hours northwest to Lordsburg, NM. From Lordsburg, we’ll explore three more part sites, two of which are in southeastern Arizona.
To end the year, we’ll make a day trip back to El Paso to see Florida State play in the Sun Bowl and then continue on to Alamogordo, NM. From Alamogordo, we’ll visit the newly renamed White Sands National Park.
What’s Coming in 2020
We’ll start the year by visiting a couple more sites in New Mexico before heading back home and back to work.
In February 2020, we are getting back into the camper to explore the national parks of South Florida. On the itinerary are Everglades National Park, Key Biscayne National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve. We visited all of these sites back in 2011, well before we started the blog. We’re excited to return, do more exploring and be able to provide our tips for you!
Our big trip of the year will be Hawaii this summer! We’ll spend about five weeks exploring all of the main islands and all of the national park sites. This will be the 50th state we’ve visited together and we’ll celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary while there. As you probably know, Hawaii isn’t cheap. To offset the cost, we’ve been saving our travel reward points and miles for several years. Don’t worry, we’ll have complete coverage of the trip and how we paid for it later this year.
Other ideas for the year are Mammoth Cave National Park and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, southern Texas, western Pennsylvania and upstate New York and southeast Georgia. Of course, the possibilities are endless and you never know where we might end up.
While we had many great trips in 2019, we realized that we really didn’t do a lot of weekend traveling. We hope to change that for 2020. If you have suggestions of places we should visit, please let a comment below or connect with us on social media.
We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.
We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.
If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
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We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.
As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.
We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.
We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.
We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.
We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.