2018 – Our Year in Review


It’s been a great 2018 for Our Wander-Filled Life. We experienced some amazing sites throughout the US and had brief jaunts to Mexico and Canada. From Jamestown to the Manhattan Project, from the Space Coast of Florida to the southeastern coast of Alaska, we visited 37 National Parks sites in 13 states. Additionally, we visited two new-to-us states, bringing our total number of states visited together to 45. 

It has also been a big year for us as a blog. We attended our first blogging conference, Bloghouse Memphis, and are beginning to really grow the business side of running a blog. We are excited to see where this leads us in the future. Travel is our love and we would be regardless of producing this web site. Making a little extra money on the side, while helping others experience the national parks and heritage sites is a win-win!

(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

Selfie at Old Dominick's in Memphis
Selfie at Old Dominick’s in Memphis

While we traveled to some great places this year, we have had a few roadblocks tossed up due to circumstances beyond our control. We had intended to travel to Louisiana in February, but, alas, our break was cut short by our school district. Three of our days during the February break were used to make up for snow days, forcing us to scramble to find an alternate (shorter) trip. 

Presently, we are headed to the Black Hills of South Dakota instead of southern New Mexico due to the government shutdown. Just like everyone else, sometimes life gets in the way of our plans. Still, we are looking forward to some snow and the majesty of Custer State Park in the winter.

January 2018: Mid-Atlantic

We started off 2018 in Virginia, visiting several national historic sites and battlefields. There is so much history in coastal Virginia, it is impossible to not find amazing historical sites. 

We ended up getting caught (quite a bit on purpose) in Colonial Williamsburg during a pretty good snowstorm. Originally, we were going to head down the coast to a few more NPS sites on the way south but had to turn inland instead. Not surprisingly, the South doesn’t bounce back from a snowstorm quickly.

Colonial Williamsburg
We loved walking around in Colonial Williamsburg in the snow.

It ended up being fortuitous since we got to visit Petersburg National Battlefield and Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park instead. After visiting all of the eastern Civil War Battlefields, these two sites provided a bit of closure. 

February 2018: Northeast Florida

After our break was cut short, we scrambled to find a quick, close place to go where we felt we could experience a few interesting sites in the time we had. 

St. Augustine
The oldest public park in the US, it is named after the obelisk in the center of the park celebrating the Spanish Consitution.

We decided upon visiting the unique areas in Northeast Florida. These sites explore the other major colonial powers in North America, Spain and France, and their impact on North Florida. It afforded us the opportunity to explore St. Augustine, the oldest continually occupied city in the US. 

We also got to explore the natural beauty of the Atlantic coast and the Timucuan Indians, which lived in the area.

April 2018: West Texas

While our trip to Florida was great, it was too short by quite a bit and the weather was pretty gloomy leading up to Spring Break. Thus, when we finally got away, it was truly wonderful to head south and get warm.

Sunrise along the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park.
Sunrise along the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park.

We broke out our tent for our trip to Big Bend National Park in West Texas. It was the first time we had tent camped since 2014 and, while we loved it, our backs certainly missed the new mattress in our camper. 

That said, I think driving the primitive River Road and camping in the backcountry near the Rio Grande might be one of my favorite experiences in a national park. 

We also took the International Ferry (a rowboat) across the river to Boquillias del Carmen in Mexico, making this an “international trip.” Man, those goat tacos were good!

Late May 2018: Memphis Part One

Another amazing sunset on the Mississippi in Memphis.
Another amazing sunset on the Mississippi in Memphis.

We spent a few days in Memphis for the Bloghouse Memphis conference and fell in love with the city. In fact, we loved it so much that we returned in September to spend more time and really dig into the city.

We learned a lot at Bloghouse and have been working on implementing the lessons learned to make our blog better for you, our readers.

Early June 2018: The Trip West

It takes a few days to get across the country and towing a camper makes it a bit longer. Still, we made a point to visit some really cool sites on the way out to Washington state. 

We started in Wall, SD for the (in)famous Wall Drug. This outpost on the plains of South Dakota is unmistakably a tourist trap but such a fun time nonetheless. 

Horse hanging out with Bonnie
This guy was friendly but didn’t want to pose for the camera, just to hang out with Bonnie on a cold summer morning at Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS.

We also visited Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site to immerse ourselves in the history and beauty of the West.

June and July 2018: Washington State 

The big enchilada! With three major national parks, we knew we needed a lot of time to do Washington State justice. 

We spent three full weeks visiting the various sites, covering every site in the state (except the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site in Seattle… We have already visited the same site in Skagway, AK). 

Grant taking pictures at Mt. Rainier National Park.
Grant taking pictures at Mt. Rainier National Park.

From the history and rolling hills of the east to rugged Olympic Peninsula and mounts Rainier and St. Helens to the south, the great variety of terrain and history found in the sites surprised us.

June 2018: Alaskan Cruise with Grant’s Family

In the midst of our visit to Washington, we met my (Grant) family in Seattle for an Alaskan cruise. The 7-day cruise took us back to the same ports we visited in 2010 on our honeymoon: Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, along with cruising though Glacier Bay National Park.

It was really interesting traveling with my family, especially after traveling so much on our own. In particular, I enjoyed seeing the look of wonder on our nieces’ faces at the beauty of Alaska. I think it was one of the better family vacations I have been on.

Grant and his dad in Haines
Grant and his dad in Haines, Alaska.

This was my first trip on a Norwegian cruise ship and it was a good experience, but I generally prefer Royal Caribbean.

July 2018: Coming Back East

When planning the trip to Washington State, we kinda wanted to visit the National Parks sites in northern Oregon, but quickly realized those sites would be better visited on a trip to Portland. 

Bonnie on the Blue Basin Trail at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
Bonnie on the Blue Basin Trail at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.

That left John Day Fossil Beds National Monument in central Oregon. This site is not on the way to anywhere, so you really have to want to visit it. We didn’t expect to love this site as much as we did. It was truly a beautiful and fascinating place to visit. 

We managed on the way back east to stay in the noisiest Walmart Parking lot ever, enjoy more Taco Johns, go back to Homestead National Monument of America and spend a few days in Topeka visiting one of my buddies from the Army.

August 2018: Becoming Famous on the History Channel

Well, not really. Folks working on a special on Ford trucks contacted us about being part of the special. They wanted to know how much we love our new F-150 and how we make good use of it on the road towing the camper. 

The new F-150 towing the camper.
The new F-150 towing the camper.

We spent a day filming interview questions, towing the camper around and making sure they got all of the shots they needed for about a minute’s worth of air time.

Still, it was really cool to watch ourselves on a special aired on the History Channel. 

September 2018: Tennessee!

We spent a weekend in September working with the folks in Memphis to cover all the stuff we missed the first time around… and we missed a lot the first time. There’s so much to love in Memphis, especially the amazing food!

The Nashville skyline
The Nashville skyline

For our September Break, we spent four days exploring Nashville. While it certainly has a very different vibe than Memphis, there’s so much to see and love. We took the camper, staying on a lake and got to explore Music City.

Then we headed east to spend a few days hiking the rivers Tennessee’s national rivers: the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the Obed Wild and Scenic River. We stayed at one of the best campgrounds in a national park we have ever seen and truly enjoyed getting out into the woods for a few days. 

Grant on the trail in Big South Fork NRRA
Grant on the trail in Big South Fork NRRA.

October 2018: Our Hometown

We realized over the summer that for all of the traveling we have done and all of the articles we have written, we have never covered our hometown: Woodstock, GA.

There’s so much to see and do in Woodstock… from the summer concerts and great food to our favorite brewery and dirt track racing. So, we spent some time going to some of our favorite spots. We live in downtown, so when you come to visit, you could very well find us at these spots.

Cheers from downtown Woodstock.
Cheers from downtown Woodstock.

We hope you enjoy visiting our hometown as much as we enjoy living here.

November 2018: Smoky Mountains

Not gonna lie, the time between September Break and Thanksgiving Break is tough on us. It is the longest stretch without time off and there is a lot going on. So, we were looking to get away for a few days of relaxation before heading back home for Thanksgiving with the family.

Townsend, TN, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, proved to be just the ticket. This sleepy little town was short on amenities (only a handful of restaurants, etc.) but long on great views and relaxation. 

Sunset in the Smokies
Sunset in the Smokies

It was the perfect getaway. 

December 2018: The West Calls

The original plan for this break was to head west on I-10 after spending Christmas with Bonnie’s family in Tallahassee. Our itinerary included time in West Texas, southern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona to visit several National Parks sites. 

Then the government shut down and with it most of the sites we wanted to visit. While many national parks are “open” during the shutdown, most cultural and historic sites are not. 

So, on to Plan B! Now, we are headed to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We found some cheap hotels to stay in and we have visited all of the NPS sites previously, so we do not feel like we will be missing out if we don’t do a cave tour in Wind Cave National Park this time around. 

Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park
Sylvan Lake is one of the many hidden gems of Custer State Park in South Dakota!

Besides, one of the best state parks in the country, Custer State Park, is open and we are excited to see it in the winter. 

On the way back, who knows? There are a couple of sites we have in mind, but we may end up having too much fun in the Black Hills. 

What to Expect in 2019

Right now, we don’t have a ton planned for 2019.

We have not made plans yet for February or Spring breaks, but are leaning towards heading somewhere tropical, possibly the Dominican Republic or US Virgin Islands. 

Selfie in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Selfie in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This summer, we are going to the Great Lakes states. We have not been to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin together, so we will spend about 7 weeks visiting all of the sites of those states, along with Minnesota and probably Kentucky.

Next Fall? Possibly West Point for an Army football game… Otherwise, we aren’t sure yet.

Since we have visited less than half of the National Parks sites in the US, we have a lot left to see. 

We look forward to sharing our travels with you and seeing you out on the road. As always, please let us know if you have any questions about any of our trips. Our goal is to help you travel more and better on less money!

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

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.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You 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.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

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.

Who do you use for rental cars?

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.

How about booking a cruise?

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.

What if I want to rent an RV?

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.

What do you use for booking tours?

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.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

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.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

2018 was a big year... We traveled from coast to coast and covered everything from the colonial roots of our country to the development of the atomic bomb.
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