This was our third season of traveling in the bus. The only destinations that were time sensitive were the NAOC Convention in June in Reading, Pennsylvania and the total solar eclipse in Mid Missouri in late August. In between we planned to hit some bike trails, see some more friends and play tourist in places like Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi and Charleston, South Carolina.
We also decided to slow our pace a bit and stay longer in spots that worked well for us. Maybe four or five days instead of two or three.
We have been members of the Elks Lodge since before we sold the house and hit the road. We knew from other full time bus friends that they were safe, mostly quiet (more on that later) and often have electric hookups. Many don’t but that’s OK too; we have our trusty generator. Some lodges have a set price but most just ask for a donation to the lodge. It’s up to you how much to donate. We decided early on to donate a minimum of $10 a night. We’re really big spenders. Even a minimal RV park or campground is likely to run $30-$50 dollars. A night. And the sites will be tight, the dogs will be barking and the kids screaming…
We have the Elk RV guide books for every region of the country. With a map of each state, they outline which Elks allow overnight parking, the length of time you can stay, what services they offer, address, phone number and directions. We always call ahead to ask if OK to park and let them know we’re coming. When we arrive, we check in with the bartender and find out where to park. The bartender is really the gatekeeper at the Elks and pretty much everything goes through her. Some lodges offer a first or second free drink and we tip well. Drinks are really cheap too. We don’t go in to the bar very often but when we do people are friendly, curious and interested in the bus life.
Since we have the address, we always Google Earth the location to check out the size of the parking lot, nearby green space for the kitties and get the lay of the land.
Jim keeps a running log on his iPad calendar and this year I started taking a picture of the bus with my phone each night. I forgot a few. We go a while sometimes without updating the calendar and the phone tells you exactly when and where the pic was taken. A miracle!
It turns out that many lodges are right on or near a bike trail we want to visit so we consult the Elks books, Walmart and the AllStays app to plan our route.
Seguin, Texas was our first stop on our way east so naturally we found an Elks. And another one the next night in Huntsville.
Many lodges don’t open until late afternoon so we leave a message if we can and proceed. A few times we have reached a message that “This number has been disconnected.” In both Georgia and Mississippi we got to a lodge only to find it closed with a For Sale sign out front. Hmmm. Both times we called the realtor’s number on the sign and they got in touch with the Elks and said it was fine for us to stay. No electric, but no donation either.
A couple of places were a tight fit like in Windsor, Vermont. When I went in to check in, the bartender had blocked off a spot right behind the building for us. That was great but the lot was small and cars were parked where we needed to turn around to back in. Hey, it’s the Elks! They all came out and moved their cars so we could get in the spot. Then they fixed us up with some 15 amp electric and said we could stay as long as we wanted. The guy on the phone said we could only stay two nights. We ended up staying about five nights. Macon, Missouri was too tight. Our bus would have taken up the entire lot! We moved on.
Many times the lodge was near the train tracks. I like the graffiti on the cars and getting the engineer to blow the horn. A couple of places the tracks were right by the lodge and the trains were fast and loud like Nelliston, New York. But it was only certain times of day and not all night. And we got to see stuff like this:
A few lodges we stayed at:
Natchez, Mississippi. The lodge was closed and for sale but we got to park anyway.
I didn’t get the bus here but this was the view in Raleigh, North Carolina. On Memorial Day weekend. We had the place to ourselves and the cats had room to roam.
Vicksburg, Mississippi. Right by the pool.
Charleston, South Carolina. Under the live oak trees.
Brockport, New York. About a mile from the bike trail.
Poughkeepsie, New York. We came back from a ride and the Elks were partying in our awning shade. We joined in.
Ashtabula, Ohio. One other rig there. Right on Lake Ontario. The sunset…
Grandview, Missouri. This is right in the Kansas City area.
Denver, Colorado. The lodge here has an actual RV park. It was a little more pricey but we could get Uber anywhere and there was a nice playground for the cats.
Pawhuska, Oklahoma. A short ride to town. Deserted.
When we first found out about the Elks perk of RV parking for members, we sorta thought we should keep it under wraps. What if everybody wanted to join? But since we have been traveling and stayed at so many lodges, some closed, I actually think it is a win-win if the Elks can attract more RV members. They gain more members, get some revenue and the community becomes more robust.
If you decide to join, just do what Jim did. Go to your local Elks lodge and say “I want to be an Elk!” Somebody will sponsor you. You have to go through an initiation ceremony and the lodge leader is called the Exalted Ruler. Really. Just don’t say you want to do it for the RV parking. You want to help the community, fight drugs and crime, play bingo, whatever.
We know many full-time RVers here in Texas and elsewhere and we have always encouraged them to join the Elks. Some people never boondock so that takes care of some of them since they need electric or hookups all the time.
For the rest of us though, we could all be doing each other a favor. Cheap, safe and friendly place to stay. Helpful and nice people when you arrive. Definitely a win-win situation.
This year we stopped in 55 places. Twenty two of them were Elks.
Natchez, MS (closed)
Sioux City, IA
New Braunfels, TX
2017: Year of the Elks.