Like last week’s post about the things I did and saw for the first time in 2020, this second annual post about my travel year is going to be short and light. Much shorter and much lighter than I planned or imagined for my year all the way back on January 1.

When I wrote last year’s travel year review, my plan was that it would serve as a tool to compare things year to year. I wanted to look at where I stayed, how much money I spent, etc. But obviously in this blip of a year, it would be impossible to accurately do an apples-to-apples comparison. So, I offer this post as a stand alone post of the most unusual and unexpected year in my history as an RVer.

Truth be told the list of plans and reservations I secured that later got cancelled is actually longer than the list of things I did and places I went. So, I feel like I must start a travel year in review post by sharing all I didn’t do.

Planned RV Gatherings Cancelled: 2

  • RV Entrepreneur Summit, March
  • Escapees 60th Annual Escapade, June

Campground Reservations Cancelled (Not by Me): 1

  • Tennessee: Paris Landing State Park, April

Oregon State Park Workamping Job Cancelled: 1

  • Interpretative Host at Kam Wah Chung in John Day, September and October

Events Cancelled That I Hoped to Attend: 3

  • PCT Days (Pacific Crest Trail Days), Ashland, Oregon, August
  • International Kite Festival, Long Beach, Washington, August
  • VegFest, Portland, Oregon, October

The Ripple Effect


In addition to 2020 cancellations, cancellations had a ripple affect that impacted 2021 plans and beyond.

First, back in May, I’d reached out to the ranger I worked for at Heceta Head Lighthouse thinking I could volunteer for him for the first couple months of 2021. My goal at the time was to replace the cancelled workamping job at Kam Wah Chung. I found the lighthouse job listed on the Oregon State Parks volunteer opportunities page. Since Ranger Ben said he’d welcome me back as a volunteer any time, I thought I’d easily get the assignment.

But no. I discovered they closed the lighthouse indefinitely due to COVID and they forgot to remove the job from the website. With closures, the Oregon Parks cut staffing back by 50% so there wasn’t staff to supervise volunteers at places like the lighthouse which brings in no funds, unlike, say, the campgrounds which continued to use camp hosts.

The good news for the public is that people can still visit the lighthouse. They just don’t get the benefit of a volunteer to interact with and to share the history of the place. Still, no lighthouses are listed for 2021 volunteer opportunities on the state’s page. I’d guess, most will remain closed through 2021 while Oregon State Parks get their staffing levels back up again.

By the way, if you missed it on Facebook, the Lightkeeper’s House at Heceta Head sent me a beautiful 2-minute holiday video with lovely images of the lightkeeper’s house decorated as well as images of the lighthouse at night. If you want to view it: CLICK HERE.

Balloon Fiesta

But the ripple affect that broke my heart a little was when the 2020 International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque was cancelled. What, you might wonder, does this have to do with me since I had no plans to attend either the 2020 or the 2021 Balloon Fiesta?

Immediately after attending the 2019 Balloon Fiesta I made the decision to get back as soon as possible and decided the 2021 would be perfect because it was the 50th anniversary of the event. I was especially excited because they said special things were planned for the milestone event.

But rather than cancelling the 2020 Balloon Fiesta, they postponed it. So, the 2020 event which was the 49th annual is now happening in 2021. This pushed the 50th event to 2022. I had begun planning a fall 2022 international trip which, because I still want to attend the 50th Balloon Fiesta, has now been pushed into 2023.

None of this is tragic and I’m glad I have the flexibility to still be able to make everything I want happen. But, even so, it’s a bit of a bummer. The ripple effect of 2020, for me, rippled out three years.

Hot air balloon rising among a dozen other ones in the process of inflating.
Looking on the positive side of things, the ripple effect means I get to look forward to Balloon Fiesta 2022 (if I can get an RV spot).

Recap of 2020 Travel

Don’t blink or you might miss this recap.

Speaking of the Balloon Fiesta, I started the year finishing up my time in New Mexico. You’ll remember I arrived for the Balloon Fiesta then wintered in Deming in the southwestern corner of the state. I left in mid-February and spent two weeks getting to Lake Guntersville, Alabama.

I finally visited the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, on my way to Alabama. It was crazy cold and windy. Oh well. You know what that means? I just have to stop again someday. There are tons of empty spray paint cans scattered everywhere.

My intent was to stay for the month of March, participating in the RV Entrepreneur Summit for the third year in a row. At least the organizers cobbled together an interesting and informative version of the event as a virtual event. Because the stay-at-home orders started coming toward the end of the month and because many public and private campgrounds were closing, I feared not securing a campground. Lake Guntersville said they were remaining open. So, I ended up extended my stay through May.

I may have stayed on longer but Alabamans and nearby Georgians weren’t taking masking or social distancing very seriously and, on weekends as the weather got warmer, the place was flooded with people. As many as 10 people to a site. When I no longer felt more safe staying than traveling, I decided to leave.

I took another two weeks, with a stopover at the Oliver factory to have some work done on the rig, to travel to a family member’s house in Wyoming.

And, for all intents and purposes, I haven’t left. Yes, I took two weeks in September to drive to Colorado to workamp. But that’s it. At the end of October with winter fast approaching, I winterized Quill and put her in storage for the winter. I guess I am now officially homeless.

Travel Stats

I put 4,600 miles on the van, half of the 8,900 miles I put on it in 2019. And down more than 60% from my first full year of travel when I travelled 12,000 miles in 2018. It’s hard to assess anything about this because when you have stay-at-home orders and everything is closed, there is no where to go. But I liked all the non-driving.

About 5,000 miles per year is kind of my speed. As I’ve said many times, I like getting to new places but am not a huge fan of the journey to get there which is why slow travel has proved challenging for me.

Back of a white van parked next to a white trailer with the door open. In the foreground is an outside table and chair. On the table is two jars--one filled with a yellow liquid and the other filled with an orange liquid.
Deming, New Mexico. The campground proved to be a popular stop as people traveled to Arizona. Here I’m waiting from my friends Ken and April from Living a Stout Life to join me to some of the moonshine I’d purchased in 2019.

Breakdown of Where I Stayed

At the end of last year’s post, I said one of my goals for 2020 was to decrease my average nightly cost to camp. In 2019, I spent an average of $14.03 per night and, while I thought it was stretch, with more nights boondocking and workamping, I set myself a goal to decrease the average to $10 a night.

Guess what? I totally blew that goal out of the water. Though, in fairness, it wasn’t hard when you consider nearly 200 days of the year I moochdocked (or driveway surfed) with family.

An overview of where I overnighted looks like this:

  • 155 paid camping spots
  • 8 Harvest Hosts stays
  • 190 nights free
  • 10 workamping nights
  • 3 nights were “other”

I doubled my Harvest Host nights which was good as it helped to lower the average nightly costs since those are free stays. I didn’t include the cost of what I spent at those places as an overnight cost though, I can see how some might make the point that I should. Those eight hosts included four wineries, three museums and a distillery.

My paid camping spots where less than half of what they were in 2019. No surprise. And my moochdocking nights increased 550%, from 35 nights in 2019 to 190 in 2020. The three “other” nights were on par with last year and for the same reason. Technically, these nights were free (unlike last year when I spent two nights in a hotel while they worked on my rig) because I was parked at the office at Oliver.

Map of US with camper pins to show travel stops.
This year, I colored coded my stops. Aren’t I fancy? Blue is paid campgrounds and parks. Red is Harvest Hosts stops. And green is workamping spots.

Adventure Stats

Like everything else, these numbers are low. I count 16 adventures during the year, less than half of what I did in 2019. Honestly, I double checked the figure as I anticipated a much lower number. It certainly felt lower. Plus, the number doesn’t include my fun eight adventures with Harvest Hosts. It, basically, is what I did at the beginning two months and the last two months of the year.

A wall of glass soda bottles faced so you are looking at the bottoms of all the bottles.
On my travel to Alabama, I stayed in Corinth, Mississippi, where I visited a Coca-Cola Museum. In addition to the many many Coke images, I found this Coca-Cola bottle wall which I enthralled me.

At the beginning of the travel year, I was still in New Mexico so it included my fantastic adventure at the Gila Cliff Dwellings (the feature image is from inside the dwellings) and the Historic Fort Bayard. It also included three Visitors’ Centers and six walking/driving tours.

The walking and driving tours are the main reason my number of adventures was as large as it was. The outside walking tours, as long as you have the map, are available at all times and social distancing is easy-peasy. Museums, on the other hand, closed which meant I only visited two (again, not including the ones I went to as part of my Harvest Hosts stays).

I’ve said several times how much I love self-guided walking tours. Now, I have yet another reason as to why I love them. They are an optional adventure even in a pandemic.

Inside a cave structure looking out at the snow-dusted hills.
From inside the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

COVID Adventures

It occurs to me as I write this that maybe I should’ve kept track of all the free opportunities I took advantage of when the stay-at-home orders were first issued. Technically not an adventure but maybe we could call it “COVID-inspired adventures.” During those first couple of months, I enjoyed many “adventures.” To quote the post I wrote about COVID:

I watched HBO, listened to writing webinars from She Writes, watched Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musicals, learned about photography from Nikon’s online classes and took a class at Yale called The Science of Well Being all while in quarantine. All FREE. I estimate I got more than $500 of services. 

2020 Travel Expenses

RV Related

  • Camping Fees: $2,217, making my average nightly cost $6.06. I spent another $256 on supporting the businesses at Harvest Hosts by buying wine, items in gift shops which included gifts for people and paying entry fees. The most expensive nights were $41 for the KOA in Colorado. The least expensive nights were in Deming, New Mexico with full hookups at $7.67.
  • Gas for the van was $756.
  • Propane came in at $0. When I visited family, others kindly filled the tanks. So, I probably used about $40 in propane though not a direct cost to me.
  • Maintenance costs were $1,106. This figure included someone to help me with winterization. I wrote a full post about the work I had done by Oliver. My van and trailer registration are for two years at a time and 2020 was the off year so no expenses there.
  • Insurance for my van, the trailer and a renter’s policy which covers all my belongings in came to $1,250. That’s about $800 less than last year but I received a reduction due to non-driving during COVID on the van. Then, when I stored the RV, I reduced the rig’s coverage significantly.
  • RV-Related Memberships and Fees for RV Events added up to ($265). Yes, it’s a negative number. While I spent money in the category, I also received two refunds from cancelled rallies. Both of which, I’d actually paid for in 2019.
  • Supplies and gadgets for the rig were $180.
  • Storage Fees for the RV added up to $576. In some ways, I think it should be added to camping fees which would increase the average nightly rate to $7.63.
White white and white trailer in a dirt campground. Photo has a yellow glow from setting sun.
In mid-February, parked at a retro campground in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can see the sun is going down and hit the Violet Quill perfectly.

Other Travel Year Expenses of Interest

  • Laundry (primarily in the form of quarters) was $100.
  • Internet and blog-related costs added up to almost $1,200.
  • Food cost me $5,900. This doesn’t include eating out but, keep in mind, that’s something I rarely do. Eating out came in at less than $200.
  • Entertainment and Adventure, you might be surprised to learn, added up to a whopping $0. I’m the queen of finding free and low-cost things to do. Most of what I did this year were walking tours which don’t cost anything.

What’s in Store for Travel Year 2021?

Since the world opening is still up in the air, it’s hard to say. Presumably the COVID vaccine works and within the next months most people will get vaccinated thus allowing social distancing to become a thing of the past. However, since I won’t be traveling until spring or early summer, when I complete the 2021 travel year in review, it is going to be a-typical just like 2020.

Right now, I’m researching and applying for workamping opportunities. Like many people, the income from my contract job decreased in 2020 and it might be a little bit before it picks up again so it would be ideal if I could keep my average nightly camping rate in the $6 to $7 range for 2021 and workamping is a big help in doing so. Plus I enjoy it.

It’s hard to makes expense goals on any other line items because I don’t have much control on those without creating rules for myself that I just won’t do. For example, I could easily say I don’t want to spend money on adventures but I’m not willing to do that when adventures were a big reason that I got on the road in the first place. Similarly, I could decide to stay put in places longer thus reducing gas costs but, for the same reason, I refuse to impose that limitation on myself. Camp fees are the main area that I can control costs by doing things like boondocking, workamping and staying in locations where fees aren’t too high.

Like most people, I’ll be happy to see 2020 in the rearview mirror. I’m super excited to see what 2021 has in store for me. What about you? How are your plans shaping up for the new year?

Written on a sketch pad, "Don't be afraid to say YES." Colored pencils are on either side of pad.
How about this for a 2021 motto?

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