My Van Year
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My Van Year

Day 61: Choosing Georgia Over Florida for Van Life

Van camping with a friend near Lake Oconee in Georgia

I never thought of Georgia as a desirable place to live, work, and travel from during the winter in a converted van. Well before the van conversion was completed in January, I thought Florida was the best place to snowbird to. But after van living in Florida and Georgia during February and March, I no longer believe this to be true. Georgia is much better. I will return to this state in future winters with the van and have no desire to return to Florida in the van or by any other means.

Before having a camper van, I had taken week-long road trips to Florida in my car to St Augustine, Tampa, Miami, and Naples. With the exception of downtown St Augustine and downtown Tampa, I didn’t like any of these places much. I thought it was me, that I was in a strange state and feeling sour about life. But having returned to Florida recently and traveled it extensively in the van I know this is not true. In general, and for van life, Florida sucks.

However, I never thought of Georgia as a place to go to for snowbirding. For some reason, I thought it would be too cold. I thought Florida was the only convenient and warm option. If you’re looking for 80-degree-plus beaches year-round, it most definitely is. But if you’re cool without beaches and appreciate space, free camping, and slightly cooler weather, Georgia is your best bet.

I’m glad to have been in Georgia for a week and am grateful to feel welcome to stay longer, mostly on land managed by Georgia’s Wildlife Management Division. In this post, I will compare van living in Georgia with van living in Florida based on my experience.

In Georgia, peaceful spots near free or nearly free campsites come by you naturally. In Florida, they are either nonexistent or fully booked.

City Van Life

  • Georgia: Overnight parking is welcome. This was my experience in Savannah, Georgia, a beautiful city that is very far south within Georgia. My friend and I parked on a side street right next to the main city park for four days and felt safe and welcome. Pets were welcome off-leash in this park, too.
  • Florida: Overnight parking is unwelcome, even in Walmart parking lots. There are “no overnight parking” signs throughout Tampa, Naples, and most likely all other large Florida cities. Retirees and people with second homes live down here and don’t like things they don’t understand, including big vans parked overnight on the street.

Rural Van Life

  • Florida: Free camping is hard to come by and paid campsites on state parks and forests are booked 2–3 months out. The only free camping I encountered was through the Southwest Florida Water Management District. But you had to create an online account and reserve a spot. With some exceptions, many spots were filled up for 2–4 weeks out.
  • Georgia: Free camping is easy to come by thanks to Wildlife Management Areas. You can access free, primitive camping spots in beautiful locations without creating an online account.

Van Life Vibes

  • Florida: Florida is flat, linear, and full of parking lots. The lack of hills, twists, and turns can make for smooth driving but uneventful scenery. However, for me it was both uneventful and nauseating. The flatness triggered a type of vertigo. When parked in busier areas, retirees will peek into your van. They are sweet and fascinated by van conversions. But watch out for these sweet old timers making U-turns. You can U-turn anywhere in Florida and many don’t do it well.
  • Georgia: Georgia is more dynamic and spacious. You trade the busy beaches, parking lots, and HOA developments of Florida for countryside roads, fields, and lakes that you often have all to yourself. It seems that most of the development efforts go into public wildlife management rather than the private development of retirement homes. Overall, this creates a better vibe for living and traveling in your van. The only downside I can think of is running into less van lifers if van life community is important to you.

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Robert Gibb

Robert Gibb

Screenwriting and appreciating life through movie scenes @ scenelift.com