After two practice runs, it was time to take the RV on the road for real. In June 2016, we hit the road for our much-anticipated trip to New England. We visited 11 states and 26 units of the National Park Service. Our first stop was the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, TN.
One of the big adjustments had to make is how we travel with the camper. With just the truck, we were a lot more nimble and could cover greater distances faster. A stop like Andrew Johnson NHS would be something we spent a couple of hours doing on our way up I-81.
With the camper, we are forced to slow down, which has pros and cons. This stop became a two-night stay, which allowed us to get to know this area better and to take things slower. We also are able to stay out on the road much longer (five to six weeks rather than our previous four weeks). It also allowed us to bring our cat, Alee, with us!
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Updated May 2019
Our First Stop
While in Greeneville, TN, we stayed just outside of town at the Baileyton RV Park. The campground is nice enough, not far off the Interstate, and very clean. We are not fans of permanent residents at campgrounds but we are coming to expect them more and more. At the very least, there are no mobile homes here.
That minor grumble aside, the campground is very clean and quiet, the owners nice and on site. The sites are well-kept and relatively level. There is a pool, a driving range, and fishing ponds. The price was pretty reasonable and they offer a Good Sam discount. I would certainly stay here if coming through this area again.
As per standard, we headed into town to pick up stuff from Walmart after getting set up. This time, it was not much. The shelves we bought at IKEA to hang in the large wardrobe dumped all of our workout clothes, so we needed a new solution. We also have a short list of non-essential things to grab but those could have waited.
Maybe we are getting better at this whole RV thing!
Greeneville itself is nothing to write home about. While the surrounding mountains and rural areas are very pretty, there is not much to the town. In fact, we drove by a video rental store and it was open with customers. Talk about a relic from an earlier age!
Dinner for our first night was at the local Baileyton Mexican restaurant, Frontera Mexican Grill, which was outstanding.
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site
We started our tour of the Andrew Johnson NHS in the Visitor Center with the brief, but informative, film. It gave an overview of Johnson’s life. He was born in Raleigh, NC. His father died when he was young; soon after, he and his brother became apprentices to a local tailor, where he learned his original profession. He eventually ran away from his apprenticeship, came back, then left again with the rest of the family, eventually relocating to Greeneville, TN, where he married.
Johnson’s tailor shop in Greeneville eventually became the place to discuss politics and he soon started his political career. Johnson stepped on nearly every rung of the ladder along the way to becoming president. He started as a town alderman, then mayor, state representative, state senator, governor, US representative, US senator, military governor of Tennessee, vice president, and, finally, president. In short, his path to the presidency was not necessarily short nor easy.
We headed across the street to his early home in Greeneville. It was three rooms that housed exhibits about Johnson’s life and early political career. From there, we went back to the Visitor Center, which outlines the details of his presidency.
For those of you who, like me, have long forgotten most of what you learned in high school and college, Johnson assumed the role of president following Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Lincoln was about six months into his second term, but Johnson was not the vice president during the first term.
Johnson was also the first president to be impeached. Congress impeached Johnson because of his stubborn dedication to the letter of the Constitution. Johnson vetoed many bills (a lot of which passed anyway), based on his belief that they didn’t uphold the virtues of the Constitution. Congress found him not guilty by just one vote.
Inside the Visitor Center is Johnson’s tailor shop. While it has been restored, the reason the tailor shop is inside the Visitor Center is because that is its original location. The Visitor Center was basically built around the tailor shop!
The next stop was the tour of his house just before and after his presidency. In today’s terms, we started our visit at the “starter house” and ended at the “forever house.” This house was much bigger and had a lot of outdoor space, especially for a house right on Main Street in downtown. Here we took a guided tour and saw how the former president lived. Much of the furnishings were authentic and included several pieces that were gifts to the president and first lady.
As per historical tradition, there were separate rooms for the president and his wife, Eliza. Eliza spent much of her adult life as a near invalid due to a long battle with tuberculosis, hence the separate room. There also were rooms for several of Johnson’s children, who lived at home as adults, for various reasons.
One interesting piece in the house was a piano that Johnson bought for his eldest daughter, Martha. While president, the first lady was not able to be “the lady of the house” due to her illness. Martha stepped up and assumed that role. The piano was her father’s way of saying thank you. It cost nearly two-thirds the cost of the house.
Following this house tour, we grabbed some lunch at The Tannery, a local sandwich shop, for some delicious sandwiches.
The last stop on our visit of this site was the national cemetery, where Johnson is buried. We decided to walk there (we gotta get in our 10,000 steps somehow!). The walk was fairly short, less than a mile, but a lot of it was uphill – definitely some good exercise! To cap it off, the last bit “getting there” is roughly 80 stairs.
The Park Service maintains the site as an active military cemetery, one of only two Park Service cemeteries that still accept burials. Johnson is buried at the top of the hill, surrounded by his wife and several other family members. On the surrounding grounds are hundreds of other military members and their spouses. While any visit to a cemetery is somber, it was well worth it.
We are starting to feel a lot more comfortable dealing with the RV. While it certainly takes a lot longer to move from place to place, having our bed and not having to unpack is a great benefit.
We are also really enjoying traveling with Alee and she is starting to really enjoy spending time in the camper. She is not as big a fan of being in the truck but once we set up, she is quite content. We can certainly tell she is enjoying spending time with us.
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.
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We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.