Getting blown around on Crabby Joe’s pier in Daytona Beach, just north of New Smyrna Beach
My high school English teacher always said a book’s setting–its time and place–should be treated like another character in the book. In our travels, I love settings that exude life. It’s why I’m equally happy at a bustling city street festival and the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.
It took me a while to understand why I didn’t love New Smyrna Beach, FL. Why being in the area unsettled something inside me. Picture a region where it seems all the buildings were erected, coated in pastel pink paint, then left to bleach in the sun for a few decades. New Smyrna Beach feels tired.
I suppose that’s the appeal for some who have earned their repose and want to find rest that meets their needs. While it isn’t a setting where I thrive, the wonderful thing about fulltime travel is that each of us can understand ourselves better as our context changes. And even when we find ourselves in a place we don’t prefer, we can learn to appreciate the people and their culture there.
When we originally planned our 2017 travels, we had this exciting open month on the schedule for exploring north eastern Florida. We were hoping to bounce around different state parks and find small charming towns we’d never heard of. Plans had to change due to Hurricane Irma. Quite literally all the RV parks in the state closed, and many were slow to open. We ended up in New Smyrna Beach because we had no other choice at the time.
You might love New Smyrna Beach. Southern Living insists you will. I did like parts of it, and there are some interesting and worthwhile attractions in the area. In fact, the town ended up being the perfect launch point for exploring Florida’s north Atlantic coast.
Bottom line: make your own evaluation. We all have our own perspective.
We stayed in New Smyrna Beach, FL from Sept. 30-Nov. 4, 2017.
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Things to Do in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Canal Street and Flagler Avenue are two streets you can wander up and down. Canal Street has a few antique and clothing shops, plus restaurants. You can walk down to the waterfront, where people fish and visit Riverside Park’s playground.
Flagler Avenue was my favorite stretch of New Smyrna Beach. It has more of that Florida beachy feel, with surf shops and The Breakers, a popular oceanview bar and grill. Third Wave, which became my local hangout, is also on Flagler (more on Third Wave below).
New Smyrna Beach Regional Library
RV friends in New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach Regional Library has a large children’s section, complete with puzzles and a small puppet stage. We visited a few times, and even met up with @rv.usa.broghamers there. Kevin and Kristi are all over the place with baby Anna. You can follow their adventures on Instagram!
Since it was Caspian’s first Autumn, I wanted photos of my baby in a pumpkin patch. We went to the one on Peninsula Avenue at Flagler Avenue. I think it’s sponsored by Coronado Community United Methodist Church, which is across the street. The volunteers took tons of photos for us, and we bought a tiny pumpkin as a thank you.
Halloween in New Smyrna Beach reminded me of Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls. I wish you could’ve been there. We went down to Canal Street for the 4 p.m. parade. Caspian in his costume, we excitedly sat on the sidewalk with everyone else.
A police officer went by on a motorcycle.
A fire truck passed next.
And then, a throng of somewhat-costumed, normal looking children and adults. Why? Because the parade was over after the fire truck. Evidently, it’s New Smyrna Beach norm for the spectators to become the parade.
It got better, though. A few blocks later, a small stage was set up with bleachers for the audience. An unwieldy mass of children milled around. Age group by age group, each child was led/pushed onto the stage and interviewed about their costume.
We went around the corner to a church festival for a while, came back later, and the costume contest was still going on. These people take their costume contest seriously. Stars Hollow, amirite?
The north end of Canaveral National Seashore is only about 20 minutes from New Smyrna Beach. We watched the film at the visitor’s center and walked out to Eldora State House. There’s more to do there, like hike or take a guided canoe tour. I was under the weather, so we closed our low-key visit with admiration for the raging surf.
Caspian loved touching all the shells at the Canaverel National Seashore visitor’s center
Looking at the website today, I see there are some Night Sky Exploration events on the calendar. Definitely see whether they have anything special scheduled if you’re in the area.
Fort Matanzas is the other national park site in the area besides Castillo de San Marcos. This Spanish fort once guarded the important southern river approach to St. Augustine. It’s unassuming and off on its own, an hour north of New Smyrna Beach, so it doesn’t get a ton of visitors. But the colonial-era history is quite fascinating. A brief film in the visitor’s center and self-guided walking tour are worth the time, if you’re interested.
Unfortunately, damage from Hurricane Irma resulted in the ferry to the fort being shut down. It was shut down in October when we visited and is still closed four months later.
We couldn’t get so close without going to Kennedy Space Center. Because Eric is a military veteran, we were able to purchase discounted tickets at Shades of Green. It’s still an investment, but it’s well worth it.
Honestly, I could write an entire article about our day at Kennedy Space Center. We’re still telling people about the Space Shuttle Atlantis building, which is one of the most memorable experiences we’ve had in our four years of fulltime travel.
Caspian hung in there the whole day without any issues, though he got a little antsy on the bus tour. The driver was particular about him sitting on my lap and not standing (even though I had quite a grip on his little body). He really was not interested in sitting. But that was a small blip in an otherwise sweet day for our whole family.
Some of our food at Kelly’s Smokin’ BBQ in Cocoa
If you’re hungry before or after, go to Kelly’s Smokin’ BBQ in Cocoa. We met Kelly Hopkins and he’s a great guy. Plus, his barbecue is epic. Oh, and the sauce is my favorite we found in the area. Don’t skip the yellow mustard sauce. It may sound weird for a barbecue sauce, but trust it.
We went back to Cocoa Oct. 30 to see the SpaceX launch. It was so surreal to soak in the fact that this rocket was blasting off into outer space to take things to a space station. 2018, people.
You can see dates of future launches on SpaceX’s Launch Manifest. Look for “Cape Canaveral” locations, which you can watch from the waterfront in Cocoa. You’ll see people parking and gathering in different places.
Day Trips to St. Augustine
Taking a break by a fountain in historic St. Augustine
St. Augustine, the oldest town in the United States, is one of my favorite places in the nation. We stayed there in 2014 and liked it so much that we visited again later that year. We made the hour drive north three times while we in New Smyrna Beach. Mostly we just walked around the town, with its old streets and beautiful architecture. But we also went back to Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument, and Ice Plant, a restaurant and vintage bar that’s co-located with a distillery.
As good as it looks at Ice Plant
Our new St. Augustine discovery was Mojo BBQ. Being from Central Texas, we’re obsessed with good barbecue. This is way up there. Our go-to meal was an appetizer of Kansas City Burnt Ends, plus the Brisket Plate with a salad and green beans. Part of the fun is the expansive flight of barbecue sauces to choose from.
Day Trip up A1A
If you head north on A1A, you’ll get to St. Augustine eventually. But it takes about two hours, versus one hour up I-95, so we never went oceanside. However, we did drive up A1A one Saturday because it is a beautiful route. Our destination was Captains BBQ in Palm Coast because an RV Wanderlust follower told us about it. And because, well, barbecue.
On the way back, we stopped when things caught our attention. Flagler Beach had its own Stars Hollow-esque event going on. Some kind of nonprofit fundraiser that involved teenagers pushing each other around on beds with wheels. It was as awesome as it sounds.
There was also a surf competition we stopped to watch for a while.
Day Trip to Disney Springs in Orlando
Caspian’s first ever interaction with Mickey Mouse
When we went to Disney World’s Shades of Green to buy our Kennedy Space Center tickets, we stayed in the area to walk around Disney Springs.
If you’ve never heard of it, Disney Springs is a large outdoor complex with shops, restaurants, and entertainment options. Some of the stores have the same Disney merchandise you’d find in the parks. Disney Springs used to be called Downtown Disney, but it’s been renamed and expanded with more upscale shopping.
It’s just over an hour to get there from New Smyrna Beach. I got my Disney fix, since I could hardly wait to get back to Disney World the next month. We had another yummy barbecue meal at The Polite Pig, which also appeared to have some nice craft cocktails.
Things to Eat in New Smyrna Beach, FL
Yellow Dog Eats, the day we arrived in New Smyrna Beach
Alright. More than a month in one place; we had figured out Eric’s keto thing; and we started eating out more again. We got around…
Yellow Dog Eats – Located on Canal Street, Yellow Dog Eats has an extensive menu of items that creatively feature in-house barbecue. I had What the Fig? Salad: pulled pork on greens with grape tomatoes, red onions, scallions, and carrots, with fried onions, pecan-smoked bacon, goat cheese, and jalapeno-fig sauce. Yes. Please. They have a lot of beer, if you like that.
What the Fig? Salad at Yellow Dog Eats
Thai Mango – I got solid take-out from Thai Mango on Canal Street. Panang curry. I wish Eric could still eat Thai because the restaurant was really pretty inside.
The Breakers – If you want a place to enjoy a cocktail and look out at the ocean, I think pretty much every local would recommend The Breakers. It’s at the beach end of Flagler Avenue. We were underwhelmed with our meal, but would return for drinks and appetizers.
Third Wave – When Eric gave me a night out, I took a chance on Third Wave, based on Yelp reviews. Not sure where to go, I wandered to the back of the restaurant, where I found a beautifully landscaped, lamp-lit patio. I pulled up by the fire pit for a drink and some crazy good Brussels sprouts. Super romantic, yet casual, atmosphere. Eric, Caspian, and I went multiple times during afternoon happy hour. Caspian and I also went a couple times in the morning for coffee–the indoor area has a hip coffee shop atmosphere. I was at Third Wave a lot.
This way to Third Wave’s beautiful patio
Norwood’s Eatery & Treehouse Bar – Norwood’s was also recommended to us by locals. Our food was quite good. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enjoy the treehouse because it’s 21+. But it’s a cool feature–literally a treehouse-style bar above the restaurant.
Inside Norwood’s Eatery–the Treehouse Bar is upstairs and outside
Fiesta Maya Mexican Restaurant – Mexican food is always reliable for Eric’s keto diet (just have to avoid the beans and rice, and bring low-carb tortillas from home). Fiesta Maya was our..
For a long time, Eric disregarded what was best for his health. Considering his grandfather died from diabetes and his mother has lived with it for decades, his diagnosis came as a shock without being much of a surprise.
When Eric posted the news on Facebook last summer, a long-time acquaintance from our Austin online marketing circle happened to see it. This person, Mark Lyne, was diabetic and had been considering sharing his journey through a Facebook group.
This fledgling Facebook group–and Mark’s knowledge shared through it–was the impetus for Eric’s major lifestyle change. If not for Mark, it’s possible Eric would’ve spent the rest of his life following the conventional “wisdom” regarding diabetes care, on a rollercoaster with his disease.
Instead of that scenario, Eric turned up the self-discipline and ate himself out of Type II diabetes in four months.
Challenging Everything We Thought About Food
Mark Lyne is an advocate for the ketogenic diet. In short, keto is consumption of high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrates. Fat, protein, and carbs are the three macronutrients we all consume.
Many of us know carbs are bad for us, at least when it comes to sugar and potato chips. But how can it be healthy to eat 65-70% fat every day? How can that be good for our cholesterol, weight, and overall health?
These are the questions we asked ourselves (and the Internet) as we formulated our response to Eric’s diabetes diagnosis. Every objection we raised, Mark could answer. It only took a couple of days for Eric to decide to give it a try. We hoped keto would lower his blood sugar level. We didn’t see how it could possibly be good for his weight, but we pushed our skepticism to the side for the time being.
I wish we had had this list when we were getting started
The next couple of weeks were challenging. The hardest part was not knowing what Eric should eat and what he shouldn’t. Things we thought were healthy–like most fruit, whole grain crackers, and vegetables like corn–were suddenly given the red light. It was a learning process.
Downloading the MyFitnessPal app and paying for premium was a breakthrough. With it, Eric could enter any food to find its fat, protein, and carb content. There’s a barcode scanner for grocery items and a huge library of dishes at restaurants throughout the country.
Macronutrient pie chart from MyFitnessPal app
When he setup the app, Eric entered a daily goal of 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbs. MyFitnessPal’s pie chart of his food intake shows where he’s at throughout the day, relative to his daily goal.
A Look at the Numbers
When Eric went into the emergency room on July 31, 2017, and got his diagnosis, he maxed out the blood sugar meter. We think his blood sugar was at least 700 (80-130 is considered normal, though 80-90 is ideal). His A1C measured around 12, and his weight was 196.4 pounds. He immediately started taking Metformin twice daily.
As of Jan. 1, 2018, after five months of faithfully following the keto diet, the numbers tell the story. Eric’s blood sugar is in the 70-90 range. If anything, we struggle with it being too low, rather than too high. His A1C is around 5.1, and he’s lost over 40 pounds. He no longer has to take any medication for diabetes.
Eric’s weight loss graph
Per his doctor, Eric is no longer actively diabetic. He isn’t even pre-diabetic. He literally ate himself out of Type II diabetes by radically changing his diet.
Eric’s self-discipline is through the roof. He didn’t cheat on his keto lifestyle a single time from August through November. On Dec. 3, Caspian’s first birthday, he had one bite of a cupcake.
Though Eric has eaten diabetes into remission, he is choosing to continue with the keto lifestyle indefinitely. Every once in a while, he has a traditional bun with his hamburger, instead of a lettuce wrap. But that’s about the extent of his indulgence.
Our overdue next step is to purchase a ketone meter online. Using a simple finger prick, this meter ensures Eric’s ketone level is in the safe range. Ketoacidosis, where the body produces too many ketones, is a danger we want to avoid.
We are keto ambassadors, 100% sold. We love sharing the lifestyle with friends, especially those who have been struggling with diabetes.
If you’re diabetic or curious about the keto lifestyle, here are a few resources to look into:
Important: DO NOT begin keto without consulting your doctor. We can’t stress this enough. While we and many people we know have experienced amazing results and are more healthy than we’ve ever been, everyone’s body is different.
Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment with questions. As always, we promise to be transparent. This is a topic I’m passionate about, so I might just turn your question into a full article.
I drive our 40-foot diesel pusher. Since we don’t tow the Jeep, Eric and I have taken turns with the two vehicles since we started full-timing.
It’s one thing to drive our RV. But it’s a whole other thing to unhook everything and get it on the road in an emergency. Like many couples, the interior is my domain on moving day, while Eric packs up everything outside.
Over the past few years, I’ve thought about asking Eric to show me how all the hookups work. I had some idea, since this has been our home for so long, but I never got around to learning the details.
That Time I Had to Move the RV by Myself
Eric went out of town all weekend for a Jeep event. Saturday morning, I was boiling a pot of water. The burner was on high, but I noticed the flame was low. We were running out of propane.
This was really bad for two reasons:
Propane delivery is every Friday. We had missed the truck, and it wouldn’t be back for almost a week.
The temperature was going down into the 30’s that night. In the forecast, the high for the following Tuesday was 30 degrees, with a low of 22. The few times we’ve had temperatures that cold, it was hard to keep our living room warm even with the propane heater.
I went to the campground office to see what my chances were of getting the delivery truck to come back. No chance. I called a local propane delivery company to see if they could come out. They were running behind and couldn’t help that day.
We needed propane by that night at the latest and Eric wasn’t coming back for two more days. I had no choice but to pack and move the RV by myself, to drive to the campground propane fill station.
Was I Nervous?
Our site at La Hacienda RV Resort in Austin, where I had to unhook
I really didn’t want to move the RV. It’s a pain even with Eric here. But when I finally made the decision, there wasn’t room to be nervous. I knew I had to get it done.
It helped that the hookups outside were already connected. I knew I just had to memorize how they were when I found them, so I could put them back the same way when I got back.
How Did It Go?
I’ve left out one crucial part of the story. My mom was visiting from Corpus Christi for the weekend, and her presence made all the difference. She helped me back out of our site, and watched Caspian while I was driving the RV to and from the fill station.
With her help, the process went smoothly. I didn’t pack up the inside like I normally would on moving day. I basically just put everything where it wouldn’t break. I even left a few things on the counters because I knew I’d be driving slowly over a short distance.
These are the things Eric normally does, which I had to figure out for myself:
Storing the hydraulic leveling jacks
Moving our wooden jack pads out from under the RV
Turning off the breaker, disconnecting and storing the electrical cord
Disconnecting and storing the cable cord
Closing the gray tank valve and disconnecting the sewer hose
Turning off the water spigot and disconnecting the fresh water hose
What Did I Mess Up?
Putting everything back together was harder than taking it apart (hmm, sounds like a profound life lesson). Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my ability to swim, having been thrown into the deep end. But I wasn’t able to get everything right:
Normally when we park, I walk around the whole RV to make sure the slides and bay doors are clear. Since I was in the driver’s seat this time, I forgot about the bay doors. With the way I parked, the door to the wet bay is too close to the electrical stand and doesn’t open all the way.
I put the jack pads back underneath the RV and (with the help of the neighbor) got the jacks down to support the weight of the coach. But I had no clue how to actually level the RV. So walking through the inside of the RV was like climbing a mountain until Eric got home.
I temporarily messed up the water connection. When taking the hose off, I thought I had to unscrew it. But it’s actually a quick disconnect you just have to pull down for release. When I put the hose back on, there was a leak. So I kept the spigot off and used the water pump until Eric got home.
I’ve seen conversation about both spouses being able to drive their RV. But being able to unhook and pack up is also part of the equation. Until this past weekend, I never though much about it; I never learned exactly how; I never practiced.
My hope is that my experience will cause you to prepare yourself. There’s no room for panic in a true emergency. Be ready, so you can think clearly, taking care of your loved ones and property.
We’re excited about our 2018 trip. This may be our most ambitious plan since we started RVing almost four years ago. Our 2016 “Grand Loop Trip” plan had a slightly higher mileage, but our 2018 “Mountain State Trip” involves dangling off cliffs, 4-wheel drive, petting wild bison, and mountain lion sightings.
We might not do all those things. Maybe we will.
Mountain State Trip 2018
We’ll depart Central Texas on March 3, following the second annual RV Entrepreneur Summit where we’ll be presenting again. Our typical travel rhythm is to drive a max of 250 miles, then stay for two weeks. In order to keep to that 250-mile max, we need to fill in some gaps on our map. But we know we want to visit the following places:
Bison at Caprock Canyons State Park (north Texas).
Hit all four national parks in Utah. I see this as the cornerstone of our 2018 trip. We plan to arrive at the end of April and stay through the beginning of June, hitting Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Arches. I want to do lots of hiking and Eric wants to do lots of off-roading with our Jeep Rubicon.
Bison at Antelope Island State Park (Utah).
Wild camping in Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming).
Back to Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) to hopefully focus on the north end of the park. We visited for a weekend in 2015 without our RV, but we have so much left to explore.
Glacier National Park! The beginning of August should be the perfect time to reach the northernmost point of our 2018 RV journey (Montana).
Depending on how adventurous we’re feeling, we might leave Meriwether in the States and take our Jeep up to Banff National Park in Alberta. I’ve been there and really want to show Lake Louise to Eric.
Eastward to bison at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota).
Lots of cool stuff in South Dakota: Badlands National Park (bison), Custer State Park (bison), Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Mountain Memorial.
Wind down to Colorado, where I’d love to stay in Golden again. Golden is one of my top five favorite places we’ve stayed since we started RVing. It’ll probably be mid-October by this point, so we’ll see how the weather is holding up.
Bison at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma).
Do I need to explain something? One of my life goals is to see all the wild bison herds in the United States. Thus the stalking and celebrating of bison throughout our 2018 trip.
If all goes according to plan (it won’t), we’ll add seven states to our map before the end of the year: Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. We only count states if we spend at least one night there in our RV. Thus the awkward gaps in the current map on our blog sidebar!
Why Do We Want to Make This Trip?
Yellowstone National Park’s Old Faithful with our Junior Rangers, circa 2015
People getting to know us always ask, “Where do you go in your RV?” My typical answer: “Wherever we want.” Yes, but the country is so big! How does our decision-process really work? I’ve written a big picture article about planning our RV travels that you can access here:
…More specifically, here are a few reasons we’ve chosen our 2018 route and the stops along the way:
We want to finish our Grand Loop Trip: If you look at the map for our 2016 trip, we only made it as far as Seattle before we had to make a beeline back to Texas for the rest of my pregnancy. Glacier National Park is basically where we’ll pick back up on our Grand Loop Trip.
We want to exercise our Jeep: Going to Moab, Utah is like a pilgrimage for Jeepers. There are a number of Badge of Honor trails in the area, so Eric is thrilled.
We want to be outside/hike: I miss hiking, which I was really getting into back in 2016 during the beginning of my pregnancy. While I’m going to need to build my endurance back up, I am freaking excited about all the opportunities to explore out west–especially in Utah.
Hiking Crack in the Mountain Trail in Lake Havasu City, 2016
We want to dry camp: We may have four years of full-timing under our belts, but we’re still newbies when it comes to off-grid camping. We plan to stretch our wings this year, though. We have brand new batteries, and we’ll at least pick up a portable solar suitcase before we start our trip. We aim to wild camp for a week at a time. Eric and I know we can easily go that long with just the two of us, but there will be a learning curve with #BabyNomad.
We love National Park Service sites: It doesn’t seem possible to visit so many unbelievable national parks in one year. I sometimes use the phrase “dream come true” off-handedly, but in this case I’ll mean it literally.
We have time: When we started traveling, I didn’t realize how much weather would play into our schedule. Yes, there’s the whole moving-away-from-the-equator factor, but I didn’t realize what a difference elevation makes (see photo comparison between Redding, CA and nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park). Since a lot of this trip is in the mountains, there’s a small window during the year that we can visit comfortably. With our March 3 departure date, I think the timing is going to work out. Spring should arrive before we hit high elevation, and we should have months to explore the northern states before we have to worry about winter.
The real thing is so much better than photos: I’ve spent four years looking at photos from RV friends, showing breath-taking scenery in Glacier National Park and across Utah. I’m more than ready to see it for myself.
We could use your help with our travel plans. Knowing our general route, what do we have to see? Where should we camp? Thanks in advance for your suggestions!