The first few days traveling down the coast were not good. My three year old was crying, I had to stop OFTEN, and I was still getting used to driving this huge van after my little Saturn. But once we got into Florida things started picking up at once.
Basically once we got to our first chilly Northern Florida beach, my son was happy. The beach was our savior. It gave us something to do all day, plus there were bathrooms and showers. Often there was a playground near by. I would take my unfinished toys to the beach and sand while Caleb dug and splashed and made friends with whatever kids happened to be around.
Another place we liked to hang out was the library. Books and internet and air conditioning: need I say more?
The other two places we spent time were Walmart and McDonald’s. Although Caleb had never been to a McDonald’s before this trip, he learned quickly why children all over the world clamor for it. We’re vegetarians, so basically we’d just go for dessert, and occasionally french fries. I hated going there, but they had free internet! And when you are running an internet business, that is kind of important.
Walmart was my go-to place to park. I couldn’t afford to stay in campgrounds or hotels, so I practiced what is known in the van living community as Stealth Parking. Walmart was best. There were often other campers around that I could park near, giving me a sense of legitimacy and security; there were bathrooms handy; and there was a cheap source of food. All that not even counting the hour that you could kill wandering up and down the aisles and playing in the toy section.
So Walmart was the best, but it wasn’t always available. Sometimes there were signs prohibiting overnight parking, sometimes there wasn’t a Walmart where I needed to stop for the night, so I would improvise. Cracker Barrel has a reputation for allowing overnight parking, so I spent every other night there for the week I was stuck in Homestead. I occasionally parked at Kroger’s that were open 24 hours. Hotels were nice because I could usually pick up their wireless signal, but I was always worried about getting busted, so they weren’t that relaxing.
I was chased out only once in the months that I lived on the road, and that was when I pulled over one night at a 24 hour CVS near Miami, because I couldn’t find anywhere else and I was in desperate need of sleep. I never had any run-ins with the police, thank goodness. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if I had (according to other van dwellers), but if I had, I doubt I’d get another night’s sleep due to my extreme aversion to conflict.
Night sleeps were spotty anyway. Sleeping in the van made me jumpy. Plus it was imperative that I keep Caleb quiet, since I wasn’t keen on drawing attention to ourselves. Plus we had a small hard bed. Still, waking up early has it’s benefits. Those quiet misty mornings that we experienced, I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Next time more adventures of the traveling toymaker…