When winter arrives, we usually take the road to the west and continue enjoying a little more warmth in the van.
But this year, we decided to make a change and take the snowbirds’ road to Florida! We discovered a whole new universe with lots of beaches, clear blue water and even some alligators. Here is our guide to help you enjoy vanlife in Florida.
The biggest question: where to sleep in a van?
Florida is not known as the most van-friendly state. Of course, there are many seasonal campgrounds that welcome RVs and trailers every year. But these places are often booked months or even years in advance and don’t really correspond to our needs as nomads.
With our little family, we left without planning anything, but, after having lived it, we admit that it can be worth doing some research before arriving. Without having your itinerary planned from A to Z, we advise you to book a few nights before leaving, because availability is sometimes rare.
A good starting point for finding places to sleep in the United States is always the state parks. The campsites are generally well laid out and the facilities are clean and pleasant to use. However, depending on the region (and Florida is no exception), they can be quite expensive. For example, we spent some time at Sebastian Inlet State Park on a beautiful peninsula. The nights were between 40 USD and 49 USD each, including the reservation fees, but we had incredible sunsets directly on the water.
Another interesting option that we discovered during this road trip is to spend the night in one of the county parks. A little less well-known than the state or national parks, these places are often much less expensive and still very beautiful and pleasant. We spent some nights camping in Kelly Park – Rock Spring (where we also found fresh water springs) and we could enjoy the place for 23 USD a night.
To be honest, if you are mainly looking to sleep for free, vanlife in Florida might not be the ideal destination for you. It’s impossible to sleep in Walmart parking lots while iOverlander is present but fairly variable. If you take the time to do your research, you’ll certainly manage to find good spots, but they’re few and far between. We found the small town of Mount Dora where we slept on the edge of a lake, but these kinds of spots are a matter of luck and are rather rare.
In our opinion, the best plan to experience vanlife in Florida is to have a Harvest Host membership. By becoming a member, you will have access to dozens of farms, wineries or attractions where you can stay overnight at no cost. It’s always a good idea to support the producer or business you’re staying with, and at the same time, it’ll introduce you to local businesses, passionate people, and delicious products.
Demand is high for Harvest Host sites in Florida, but if you plan a few days in advance you will be able to find a nice place. On our road trip, we enjoyed Cocoa Beach and a delicious restaurant at its marina, and Zak had his best day ever when we spent the night at an animal shelter with peacocks, pigs, goats, horses and turkeys! To really enjoy your days on the road in Florida, Harvest Host is a must.
For digital nomads: where to work on the road?
Working during our vanlife road trip in Florida presented some challenges. Of course, the baby factor is always a consideration when planning to spend a few weeks on the road. Since Karo is back at work, we had to take turns watching Zak while the other was in meetings or answering some emails.
Luckily, in Mount Dora, we found the biggest and most beautiful outdoor children’s park. Elizabeth Evans Park was really perfect for us because, in addition to offering a playground for Zak, the park had great wifi! So we could easily switch between work and daycare without having to move the van.
Unfortunately, the various campings where we spent the night did not have wifi, while the cell network was not always at its best for the digital nomads that we are. So we quickly looked for another nice and comfortable option and our biggest surprise was Starbucks! We don’t know if it’s like this all over the country, but in Florida, they have created a new experience with spaces adapted for teleworkers. There are now couches and bigger tables, and honestly, we were super comfortable working for a few hours. Moreover, we met Starbucks everywhere on our way and that helped to facilitate our everyday life at work in the van.
Family time: where to enjoy it?
Although we hoped to be able to do some surfing in Florida, the waves were not really present. So we mainly took the opportunity to discover the famous freshwater springs! These freshwater springs are present everywhere in Florida and allow you to spend the day right by the water while discovering surprising fauna and flora.
Be careful, these environments should not be confused with hot springs. Freshwater springs are made up of pools and small rivers where the water is very clear. They are often surrounded by a park and a landscaped area where you can spend the whole day. All around, the rainforest is full of wildlife so it’s a great activity to do with the family. Of course, we often see alligators, but they are well used to human presence and stay away from us!
During our 3 weeks of vanlife in Florida, we discovered the Rock Springs in Kelly Park (where we also spent the night), the Welaka Springs, and the Alexander Springs in the Ocala National Forest. The first two places are quite similar, with their freshwater pools and their tropical forest. What we liked about Rock Springs is that a little outside the county park, there is a private section that allows you to wander in the small rivers through wildlife. It costs 10$ to take your boat down, but it’s a small price to pay and well worth it. In any case, if you plan to discover the springs during your road trip to Florida, don’t forget your masks for snorkeling and your paddle board or your kayak to enjoy the canals!
Some additional tips
To make your trip to Florida easier, we strongly suggest that you get a SunPass. Since there are many toll stations on the highways, SunPass allows you to add money to your account and avoid having to pay with cash all the time. When you connect your credit card, the pass automatically reloads so you can continue driving without worry. Plus, with the SunPass transponder, you save up to 25% on tolls.
Finally, if you ever need to store your van in Florida, our best suggestion is to deal with Cube Smart Self Storage or Atlantic Storage. Having done some research ourselves and compared prices, they are significantly cheaper than other large storage companies. In our case, the first month was half price, so $120 per month, which was ideal since we only had to store the van for 6 weeks.