From January to April 2011 Laura, Kaylin, Kappy and I migrated from west to east across the country. Our route consisted of lengthy stops (2+ weeks) in a handful of locales with quick stops in between. Think Oregon, Napa, Pismo, Malibu, San Diego, Tucson, Deming, Marfa, Austin, New Orleans, Orange Beach, Destin, Gainsville, and then up the east coast with a bunch of other spots along the way. We did it in a 1995 Winnie that I traded my truck for then sold when we got back to Vermont.
This week, Laura and I finally got around to putting our trip up on the wall. It’s about 4 feet wide and 3 feet high with 100+ photos strewn about. In general it follows our route contour. California is lower left. Florida lower right. There’s a story to go with nearly every picture that we tell to each other after a few beers. Some of them have been blogged on this site.
Here’s a look at it. Come visit and see it for real. Well, almost for real. Taking the trip was for real.
After departing New Mexico in late February we had little in the way of plans other than to get to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida by mid March. That left us about three weeks to get across Texas and towards the bayou.
By this time the lack of marketing gigs at I-10 truck stops (not exactly tourist hotspots) meant that we could generally go wherever, rather than where the work was.
We hit up two state parks in West Texas, got off I-10 for a while to explore the Big Bend area, and well, I’ll let the best and worst list cover the highlights. Photos below too.
The worst of Texas:
Dust storm. Spent an entire day trapped in Balmorhea, Texas while winds of 70+mph ripped at the aging seams on the outside of the RV and shook it like a leaf on a tree. Glad to have decided not to drive that day.
Fort Davis, Texas RV Park manager guy. Laura really pissed him off when she counted the quarters he gave her for laundry, in front of him.
Got all the way to a “no reservations” state park after a day of travel. It was full.
Austin, Texas. People are simply way too hip there. It’s overwhelming.
Ran our batteries dead on a cold night in Austin. Slept in the front seat of the RV with the engine running for heat.
Kaylin’s stroller got a flat tire. Better than the RV I suppose.
The best of Texas:
Met a couple with a baby from Canada. They were towing an old trailer and seeing the states on their maternity leave. Camped with them for a few days in the Davis Mountains.
Wildlife. West Texas is quite rural with interesting topography. Deer and javelinas (little hogs) everywhere.
The angry park manager guy in Fort Davis. I found him to be intellectually challenging. Like a game of Jenga.
BYOB Mexican restaurants within walking distance.
Kappy made a miniature dog (that could not swim) jump off the end of a dock simply upon viewing him. (Not a lot of huskies in Texas I guess)
Saw our old friend Jess from college.
Took a shower and enjoyed electricity (for free of course) after 3 days of boondocking. Best shower of the trip.
Met some of the “Judgement Day” folks. Asked them if they had retirement funds.
Most of the best photos from Texas were on the western side. If you have no idea how this story starts or ends, click the RV category or a state name in the tags to find out. We lived in an RV for 3 months moving from Oregon to Vermont, then sold the beast.
Arizona and New Mexico represented just over 2 weeks of the journey, mostly in February. Our location in Tucson was the first RV park to actually welcome us before our arrival thanks to the example work emailed ahead of time. It felt like progress. We also spent time at a couple different state parks, which provided most of the scenery.
The worst things that happened in the desert southwest:
The welcoming RV park, was well, grim. It was also a bit smelly. Our neighbors had about a dozen board games stored on their picnic table. By stored I mean old and decomposing. But hey, it was free.
The fridge had stopped working (from the LP source) in San Diego so we stopped to get it fixed in Tucson. Cost around $300. Might have gotten ripped off.
People generally hate recycling in Arizona. It makes for uncomfortable situations when you are the one asking about it. At one point we drove 26 miles roundtrip to recycle. I think it was the wrong call environmentally.
We went to downtown Tucson. Not great.
Kappy could never run free since everything was prickly.
Many friends telling us to head to really pretty areas in the far away northern part of Arizona where it was also winter. We were not in a situation to explore, baby, RV and all.
The RV Park manager invited me to his cigar night with the park pals. He fed me waaay too much cheap scotch in front of his LP gas campfire.
The best things that happened in the desert southwest:
Stayed one night in a place called Picacho Peak. Amazing and close to I-10. Stay there if between Tucson and Phoenix.
Laura went to the sewing club with all the snowbirds in the RV Park. I assume it was great.
Walked in the only snow of the trip up on Mt Lemmon.
Enjoyed the best sunset of the entire trip on Laura’s birthday near Deming, New Mexico in Rockhound State Park.
Gas was $2.99.
We left the Tuscon RV park early even though it was free. Had to get out of there.
My computer power cord died. Was given a new one free by the scotch giving park manager. Thanks Dan.
Everyone else we knew was cold in February. We were wearing shorts.
I probably should just keep posting about marketing, social media, cultivating your audience, and online best practices in order to create more local moonlighting opportunities, but hell. There’s waaaay too many other people doing that – and it’s my birthday, so today we’ll skip it.
Without further adieu, here are the worst things that happened in California:
When leaving Redding (on about day 2) the door to the RV flew open while we were driving. SCARY.
The people at the Napa park got mad at me and threatened to kick us out for continuing to ask if they wanted me to make them a video for trade. I made one anyway.
I lost my original pair of poop gloves. They were my favorite.
The large, heavy and old TV fell on me while pulling into a gas station. Would have fallen on Laura too if she wasn’t in back seat. Kappy took some of the brunt as well. She had been warning me the whole time that it wasn’t stable.
Shopping at a store called El Super. It was El Confusing.
Having security called on me at Chula Vista RV Resort. I wanted to chat with decision maker about a trade. They refused. So I hung around in hopes they would eventually cave and allow a chat. They didn’t.
Jack-knifed the RV into the car trailer while attempting to park. Ripped open the bumber/rotten wood. Lots of caulk.
It wasn’t all bad though:
Asst Manager at Home Depot in Napa opened 8 different new grills to find me one single part I needed for mine. When he found it, he gave it to me free. Whoa!
The Napa folks changed their tune after seeing the video. They wanted it and refunded our card. Plus apologized for being grumpsters.
Scored a case of expensive wine+cash in Pismo on a work trade.
Had In-N-Out Burger for the first time ever.
Sold the car trailer on craigslist in San Diego for $100 more than I bought it for in Oregon.
The TV that fell on me…. still worked when I put it back.
Got an email from the marketing firm of an RV resort that shot me down. Said, “too bad we didn’t know you were coming – KOA got a great deal”.
Oh yeah it was January/February. You were all cold. We were not.
We spent more time in California than any other state. Jan 5 until Feb 16. Almost half of our trip was in the Golden State. Not by design but by virtue of the fact that I found a lot of work and other states on our route were expected to be less interesting. Here’s where we stopped and a bit about who was parked nearby.
Redding California Wal-Mart parking lot. 20 random RV’s all seemingly stopping on their way south. Direct neighbor was a RV repairman who specialized in window seals, which caused me to worry a bit more about ours. The frozen water in the walls finally thaws and few spots are damp. Uh oh. Thankfully that was the only time that happened. Also ate some In-n-Out Burger.
Napa Valley Expo RV Park. Huge Class A (bus style) neighbors with yap dogs. Guy watches sympathetically as I try to figure out the water and sewer systems for the first time. He consumes about 4 bud lights while chuckling at my ineptitude. The park host sits on a picnic table seemingly 24/7 smoking butts.
Pismo Coast Village RV Park. Stayed in two different spaces in this park. Our first neighbors were a pair of life partner ladies from Fresno, who seemingly had an ownership interest in the park. I put their dog in the promo video. Someone left us three lemons, we think it was them, but we will never know. Very nice. We made some fish to use the lemons. Our second set of neighbors (in the lower class section of the park) was a huuuge family from Washington in a small trailer. Home schooled family with kids ages newborn to 10. We also had some late arriving weekenders (we were there for weeks) who showed up right next to us at midnight and partied until 4am. Everyone hated them and bitched about them behind their back. In general though, one of our favorite spots on the whole trip.
Malibu Beach RV Park. Not a very neighborly spot. People do not talk to each other. The staff generally did not enjoy the guests and visa versa. Amazing view and had some family visitors to substitute for the lack of nice people in the park. One would expect Malibu to be a bit stuck up, and this park fulfilled that expectation.
San Diego KOA. Spent 3 weeks here so had a good mix of neighbors. Had a Harley guy who we never saw except for when he would roll out on his hog. Had a family from South Central LA who were loud and scary friendly. Up in your face with conversation all the time. They wanted to like Kappy but Kappy barked at them, which changed their mind. They also owned a battery operated cop car and drove it all around the park. Also had our cousins stay next door a few times. Lots of Quebecois in this park too. It was located in Chula Vista beneath a couple of freeways, but was otherwise nice.
Our longest one day haul was up next (San Diego to Picacho Peak near Tucson) and I’ll continue to the neighbor review in a future post.
While we were on our 3 month crawling journey across America, this blog focused mostly on the freelance work I was able to secure, as I needed to have it featured in order to get future work down the road. It served that purpose well.
At this point however, you may notice that the blog has a different look, and a seemingly different destination. I now have a 9-5 job that’s keeping me busy so no need to be all corporate in this space. So let’s re-embark on the trip, with a focus on the real deal. Rather than just chonologically rehash it, I’m going to drill into various topics when I have time. Some of them may include, but are not limited to:
Stuff we ate
Accidents that happened
Our random neighbors
What caused that hangover
Each time we messed up the RV
Times when Laura got lost
Scary shit near the border
The crappiest weather
Places where I tried to get work, but failed miserably
Dogs Kappy humped
Run-ins with wildlife
Stories of Americans who were awesome
Stories of Americans who really sucked
The strangest truck stops
I don’t know suggest something…
I’ll “categorize” all of the post within the “rv” category as we go. So they’ll all be viewable in one spot.
No that doesn’t sound fun. That’s because it isn’t. In the last 3 weeks since we arrived in Vermont and put the circa 1995 Winnebago onto Craigslist and about 6 other websites north of the border, gas prices have gone from $3.49 to $3.95 at the local pump. With every penny jump the value of our RV was dropping as people, frankly, are smart enough not to burden themselves with an aging beast that costs 4X45 ($180) to fill up, then gets 8-10 miles to the gallon slurping that sweet crude. Dealers are dropping their prices and would be RVers are thinking harder about buying the ultimate guzzler.
A couple weeks went by and a few emails trickled in, mostly from folks in Rhode Island or Mass. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Pump prices go up, rain falls endlessly on the suspect roof seals, and the vehicle itself sinks into the waterlogged driveway. Delusions of selling it for anything near what we bought it for are fading fast. Two people make appointments to come and visit, both cancel. Ugh.
Since most folks are far away and the passion to see it is tempered by the idea that it’s likely an old beater, I posted a 9 minute goofball monologue stream of conciousness, took a little off the price and reposted the listing going into this weekend. Bam! Locals! A couple from Barre drive up immediately and proclaim they will make an offer on Monday when banks open. That’s cool. Another guy makes an appointment to see it on Monday. Then the phone rings again at 6pm. “We’d like to drive up from Rutland right now”. Niiiice. By 9pm the beast was gone.
So how did it all work out? We bought the beast for $13,000, owned it for 6 months, lived in it for 3 and put 5000 miles on it. Sold it for $12,500. Was hoping to magically sell it for more than we bought it for, but with gas prices doing what they are, I’m damn happy. Time to go get a fuel sipper.
My most recent client was present on facebook, but was doing so as a friend page instead of a fan page. This meant that guests would need to request friendship to become connected and thus would offer all of their personal information to the campground. Both of those are major hurldes to participation. Also facebook can eliminate your profile at any time if you are improperly using the platform. That’s bad. You also miss out on social plugins for your main website. The list goes on.
“Converting” to a fan page is not the conversion that I’d like to look at – it’s a no brainer. Get it done if you have not. The important conversion to be aware of is in regards to how the newsfeed functions. The newsfeed is where your brand wins or loses on Facebook. You can have the best intentions and content on the internet, but if folks have not clicked “like” on your business, it will not make it to their eyeballs within Facebook’s platform. Sharing it? Not a chance. Sure they could come directly to your page, but that’s just as likely as visiting your website, which would not be taking advantage of why you are on Facebook to begin with.
I’ve seen a variety of statistics in regards to organic conversion on Facebook, meaning percentage of folks who like a brand when viewing their facebook page upon arriving at the wall. These have ranged between 10% and 30% depending on the brand. It’s low. They need help. A reason to join the club. The #1 way to gain more facebook conversion is to make sure that your primary website contains social plugins allowing visitors to like you without ever seeing your facebook page. Yup – you’re in the newsfeed and if your content is good (i.e. inspires interaction) then you can reap the rewards of a growing outbound network. The #2 way is to make sure that when a visitor reaches your facebook page and is not currently a fan, they are met with a reason to click like, rather than a mish mash of wall content. Here at Camp Gulf, they wanted to make the switch and do it without any development costs so a free landing tab for non fans that inspires conversion was the way to go. If you are not a fan, you’d see the like option right above the image on facebook.
Facebook can be a fantastic outbound communications medium, or it can be a time suck where you communicate only to a group of squeeky wheels or super fans. The difference is in how much effort you put into fan conversion and content that inspires interaction. Added bonus - be sure to grab your vanity url so it’s easier to direct folks to your page when interacting in a offline environment (i.e. facebook.com/yourbusiness). This looks a lot better in a brochure or on a business card when compared to ”search for us on facebook”.
The crackpot idea of trading my pickup for an RV, relocating the family to Vermont over the course of the winter months and offsetting the costs by securing marketing work along the way actually panned out (knock on wood since we still have miles to go).
We’ve made it to Florida and I’ve done work for eight different entities since January. The final of which is underway here at Camp Gulf, in Destin Florida. I’m hands-on consulting with a number of the staff here to help modernize their approach. On the docket? Switching them to a fan page, conducting practice sessions on Facebook and Google PPC campaigns, claiming and building out their Google Places listing, and most importantly writing an RFP so that they can tackle the process of building a new website with their design and CMS needs well documented and represented to potential vendors.
Though it’s only mid-March and our plan is not to arrive in Vermont for another month, from a business standpoint, our trip is wrapping up. The remainder of our stops are likely to be of the quick 1-3 day variety rather than extended stops where I deliver marketing services for a host and/or local businesses. What does this mean to you? It means I no longer have to keep the content on my homepage laser focused on RV Park content aimed at our next potential host. Hooray! For me it means more of a focus on what’s going on in Vermont where I’m seeking either two half time clients or one full time brand. Excited to finally be there in person.
So it’s time to shift back to my musings about modern day marketing communications and/or Vermont stories. Well, almost. We have about 1500 miles to go. I’ll take suggestions on what folks would like to see from the South or Appalacia. Here’s a bit of what we saw in New Orleans. They are called Cats Domino, or at least that’s what was written on the paper bag the CD came in. Been looping the 23 old timey tracks ever since. These guys need a promoter!
We left Tucson about 2 weeks ago and have since spent time in the Florida (pronounced flor-i-ta) Mountains of New Mexico, the Davis Mountains in the Big Bend of Texas, the Hill Country of Junction and Austin and now find ourselves just a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The grass is now green, it’s humid, and there are many signs for alligator attractions, which is a nice change of pace. After boondocking in Austin to see our friend Jess (and running out of battery power on the last night) our current spot is feeling like an oasis of amenities.
Welcome to the Gulf Coast RV Park on the west side of Beaumont, Texas. This is a stopover/monthly park just off I-10 adjacent to the massive Ford Park entertainment and athletic complex. It’s in good shape, has modern amenities, and is very straightforward. Beaumont is not a tourist hotspot per se so the park focuses on being exactly what the traveler needs. Everything is clean, orderly, works well (even the wifi is fast) and there’s a free breakfast. It also has a new website that is only 5 pages in total. It’s bare bones but functional – so we gave it a boost. The video capsule below can be featured throughout the site and will allow guests to feel at home before they get here, which is a major factor for RV’ers trying to decice where to roost. This will be on their homepage shortly.
Next we are headed east for quick stops near Baton Rouge and Mobile, before seeking our next longer term video trade spot on the Florida Gulf Coast. If you get an email from me pointing you to this website, ask yourself – what would you like to communicate with video in trade for a single camping slot? Also consider that I’ll be contacting your competition. Embrace the opportunity – don’t let it go down the street. No website is complete without compelling video. So let’s get you some for the cost of simple camping trade.
The other people as crazy as us on the continent
Side note - I’ve been keeping this site to work related posts, but wanted to give a quick shoutout to Jed, Jillian and Juliet from Alberta. We met them in west Texas and spent a few nights camping as neighbors in Davis Mountains State Park. The first and only young family we have run into. Best of luck the rest of the way guys!
They were towing a small antique trailer and were seeing the sights of the west and south over the winter with their baby and pup. Hopefully we busted some American stereotypes along with those we surely upheld. Check out their blog if you like.
Look us up if you are ever headed to Vermont and let’s have a look at those curtains!
Hi. I'm Alex Kaufman. This is my generally neglected blog.
I'm a marketing guy from Vermont who spent most of the last decade representing large ski/golf resorts coast to coast. Since 2011 I've been running the marketing and business development for the Vermont offices of an international engineering firm. I'm also the Online Editor and Sales/PR Wrangler for SkiTheEast.net.
You'll find thoughts and tips on marketing, PR, social media and multimedia production. There's a three month cross country trip blogged in here too. These thoughts are my own.