Camping East Coast USA - Not as easy as you might think!
Having missed the autumn/fall in the East last year we were determined to catch it this time around, we had a vague romantic plan of driving up the East Coast, taking in the outstanding autumn colours -dazzling reds, shimmering golds and beautiful bronzes; we could go for long hikes on crisp autumnal days, camp in the forest and then cook our supper over a crackling campfire - funny how things never quite turn out how you imagine!
What we hadn't banked on was difficulty in finding places to camp, wild camp spots are like unicorn poo, the occasional place we found was often accompanied by hunters and their guns. There were plenty of tourist campsites but they were eye wateringly expensive some as much as $70 or more. State Parks are great, but you don't often get more than a pit toilet and that will set you back $20-$30 per night as well, that's if you can get in as you often need to book in advance. It was definitely easier to camp in Outer Mongolia than on the East Coast of the USA! The problem is we have been spoilt, because in the West and certainly in Canada you can just slip off the road, tuck yourself into a little spot and settle down for a few days. The East, however, is much more populated and seemingly every bit of land is owned by someone, you know its owned by someone as there are numerous POSTED signs usually accompanied by NO TRESSPASSING signs to make it very clear that parking for the night is not wanted or allowed.
We did find places usually with the help of Freecampsites.net this was the best resource we found, however many of the stops were either Walmart or Casinos. Our usual go-to app is ioverlander.com which we used all through Asia and Canada, but it just isn't as reliable in this part of the US, the App is reliant on members contributing and sharing wild camping spots as well as legitimate campsites but many of the spots are out of date, we stopped using it for a couple of reasons, firstly on more than one occasion we drove a significant number of miles out of our way just to find the spot didn't exist at all or had been "posted" meaning it was no longer available or secondly the official campsites listed were just too expensive. According to the website, they are addressing the issue of updating the app so it may be better in the future
So what did we do? Well we did find the odd sweet spot, but they were few and far between, we used a few of the State Park campsites especially along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we chanced our luck a few times in places we thought we probably we shouldn't, and got moved on by Mr Policeman a couple of times, and lastly, we slept at Walmart carparks way too often!
Perfect spot for the night, but Mr Ranger didn't think so "No camping Sir"
Walmart really isn't our favourite camp spot but it serves a purpose, if you need to cover a lot of miles and want to turn up somewhere at night when its dark then it's great, you know there will be bathrooms (that's just a toilet for the English speaking English not a bathroom with showers !) a relatively safe place to park (I'm sure there have been issues in the car parks be we have yet to hear of any) and you can pick up your groceries as well. However it isn't a particularly lovely place to camp - you aren't encouraged to get your table and chairs out, and nor would you really want to, it's much more of a place just to park for the night. In the beginning, I was worried about going to the store in my jimjams for my 2 am pee, what would people think, It could be very embarrassing? but soon realised that they have probably seen much worse than a middle-aged Brit in her fleecy pyjamas and a sweat top, nobody batted an eyelid, common practice it would seem, people wandering the aisles in their nightwear - there is even a hashtag #peopleofwalmart look it up I might even feature!!!
The East Coast is graced by some amazing cities which we really wanted to visit, but cities and van life are pretty much a contradiction in terms, it's a bit like saying Tigger is a great van for stealth camping in, it just doesn't work. I know some Overlanders are happy to park on the street in busy built-up areas, but firstly Tigger is sort of noticeable, secondly we don't have a toilet, its one thing getting out to pee in the middle of the night in a forest, something quite different in a city, and thirdly we weren't happy about leaving Tigger on the street all day while we were off sightseeing especially in places like NYC, so we came up with three different solutions for our city stays
No 1 - Stay with friends! Obviously this isn't an option if you don't have friends in said City you want to visit but you could, of course, go Couch Surfing and use their parking slot, or often in the VW world there are people who will offer their driveways for you to camp on, there are numerous Facebook groups which you can join for this, I'm sure its the same for Landrovers or Toyota groups. However we did happen to have some friends who live just outside Philadelphia, the main reason for our visit was to see them but our day trip to Philly and the Barnes Foundation was well worth it.
Apparently "Philidelphia" is spelt incorrectly on the Liberty Bell -who knew! And how many trees have you seen that have been to the moon an back!
No2 - House Sitting- We love house sitting, for so many reasons and I may well write a blog post just about this. We bagged a housesit in Washington DC with somewhere safe to park Tigger, we got to do our laundry, have unlimited showers and WiFi in a luxury apartment all to ourselves. We did have to look after two adorable little doggies called Grin and Bareitt but that wasn't a problem it was a total plus point, and a 20min bus ride got us into the centre of Washington DC - perfect. We are members of Trustedhousesitters.com a website for finding housesits, if you are interested in joining then let me know, I can get you 20% off joining fee and we get a couple of free months
Washington, Art, Culture and doggies!
No 3 - Campsites - Yes in most major cities there are campsites, but the pay off is they are expensive we stayed at the Liberty Harbour Rv Park which is actually in New Jersey but a short train ride to Manhattan - you are on a different metro system to Manhattan the PATH system but the metro card if you get the right one - Yellow card which says METRO in blue will work for both lines. You can also catch their commuter ferry which is very close to the RV park, but this only runs at busy times so we didn't use it. So how expensive is expensive? *@%*@** expensive is the answer, for this particular site anyway - including tax $102 PER NIGHT and it's going up in 2018, a licence to print money me thinks! so why did we do it? A hotel would have been way more expensive at least for one with a carpark and secondly peace of mind, no worries about leaving Tigger all day. It was really just a very expensive car park, that said it did have pretty good showers and a laundry, you were supposed to be able to get wifi on the site but we could only ever get it by going into the office
So this is what you get for $100 per night, and there were no concessions for smaller vehicles, so we had to pay the same as the huge RV's !
But for all our moaning, it was worth it - LOVE NYC
But the best thing about this trip down the East Coast has been the people, we have met some amazing guys who have taken us into their homes, looked after us, fed us, laughed with us and shared stories with us - we are complete strangers yet we have been made to feel so welcome and part of a family, we have come away with genuinely new friends. This isn't unique to the East Coast we had the same experience last year in the West, American hospitality is absolutely second to none, so no matter what bad press you hear about Americans and America, there are plenty more great guys than there are nutcases we can tell you from firsthand experience that there are some super good people here,.
New Friends and a couple of old ones :)
Oh and what about the Autumn colours? apparently worse fall for years, been too dry, the leaves have just fallen off and not stayed on the trees and developed colour - Never mind not sure we were really that bothered anyway, our lives have been made much richer by the people we have met than the leaves on the trees