Life in Tampa Winter 2019-2020 & The Start of Covid-19

Returning to Tampa in early November 2019 Julie and I truly believed that we had accomplished something special.  Driving from Florida to the most northwestern point on a paved road in North America; we had seen so many things and met so many people.  During this time (and since we had started to RV in May of 2017), we knew one thing for sure….we did not want to go back to a normal office life, in a cubicle that we had both worked in prior to RVing.

Julie in her “before” life worked for a cable company in Rochester as an account manager in their commercial/production division.  I worked for a small internet provider in their operations department.  What we both knew is that we did not want to go back and work in a cubicle again.  This was especially hard in the long Rochester winters where we would go to work before the sun came up and by the time, we left the sun would have gone down already.

Choosing a New Home

We had two main goals during our time RVing; where do we really want to live and what do we want to do.  As much as we love Rochester, we knew we wanted to try somewhere different.  Growing up I lived in five different cities in five different states, so we planned a move as “probably not forever but for now”.  It took a long time and a lot of thinking but we came up with 3 of our favorite cities.  We like big cities, just not a “mega” city like Chicago or LA.  We also wanted a warm weather city (more of Julie’s requirement than mine).  Our three finalists that we picked were Tampa, FL, San Antonio, TX and San Diego, CA.

Great; now we have three.  Which one to pick?  Well, as things usually do the winner was picked because of family.  Almost all of our family lives in the northeast so while we would have loved to live in TX or CA (and maybe will someday), for now we picked Tampa.  Another reason for Tampa is that we already had property in the city.  We had been renovating it from the road the year prior with the idea of either living in it or selling it.  So here we were….living in it!

What are we going to do with our lives now that we are not full time RVer’s?

Next up….what do we do with our lives.  While RVing around North America was amazing and a literal dream come true, we knew that we wanted to start our own business and eventually start a family.  We had been searching in every state and province that we visited for unique businesses and ideas.  We wanted to find something that could work in our new hometown.  We also wanted a business that we could work on together as well as something fun and people oriented.

During our travels the one business Julie and I always sought out were small local breweries.  We do love beer and yes, that is the first reason.  The second being that we always were able to get great info about what to actually do and see in a town.  The bartenders and patrons of these establishments are always super friendly and great sources of information.  In a lot of the bigger towns there were also beer tours.  Anytime we found these we immediately signed up.  We always had a blast, met awesome people and with some of these new friends still keep in touch now years later.

We thought “Maybe we could run a beer tourism business in Tampa”.  After doing a bit of research we found that there were around 80 breweries in the Tampa area.  We also could not find a beer tour like any that we had been on.  We started to think that yes……We think we can actually make this work.  So, in November 2019 we started to put things together.  We asked around for lawyer recommendations, called up our friend Josh who created our logo and started the process.  We knew that it would take 4 to 6 months to put it all together, but we thought that would be great.  4 to 6 months would put us opening in early summer; the slow season in Florida.  The slow season would let us get all the kinks worked out so that by high season starting in December we would have everything going full speed.

November 2019 Plane Travels to Las Vegas, NV

Julie and I could never sit still though.  Even though we were not in the RV we didn’t stop traveling.  About a year prior we got a call from our friend Jen asking if we (or more Julie) wanted to go see Lady Gaga in Las Vegas.  The show that she wanted to go see was at the time going to be her last show of her residency there.  We thought about it for a few days as it was not going to be the cheapest trip in the world.  One of our ideas on life is “On our deathbed are we going to remember the money we saved or the experiences, fun and friends we made?”.  As this was the case, we called Jen back and said, “We’re in!”.

Late November 2019 arrived, we headed to the airport and took to the air to Las Vegas.  We had known that it was not just Jen, her husband Dave, Julie and I going.  There was a whole crew involved.  An Airbnb was rented about a mile off the strip.  As it turned out there were 10 of us in the house with 4 others staying on the strip itself.  We were in Vegas for 4 days and had a blast.  The concert turned out to be one of Julie’s all-time favorites and we thought that having a rental house off the strip was the way to go.  When the strip or downtown Vegas got a bit overwhelming, we could head back to the house for a few hours of peace before heading out again.  All in all, we had a great time in Las Vegas with friends new and old.  It was a great first non-rv trip in a long time.

Holidays in Florida & New York

December came and we continued to work on our beer tourism idea.  We secured a lawyer, got the legal process going and started to work with Josh on our logo, website, and get our business plan together to make this idea a reality.  During this time, we also drove down to Captiva Island, FL for our family reunion then flew up to Rochester, NY for the holidays.  We had a great time seeing friends who we hadn’t seen in months, even though Julie had to wear 4 jackets as she was now a Florida girl and not used to the negative western New York winter temperatures.  Spoiler alert….Julie survived our 2 week northern winter.

January 2020 came and went with our focus on our beer tourism business now with an official name – Tampa Bay Brewery Tours.  We visited with friends and just really enjoyed life in our new hometown.  Toward the end of the month we started planning for our 2nd flight trip to San Diego with my brother and his fiancé.  They had been following Julie and my travels for years and wanted to go someplace fun with us.  After a bit of discussion to which they wanted to go someplace far away from where they live in Rochester and someplace somewhat warm, San Diego was chosen.

February 2020 San Diego, CA

Flying back out to San Diego was a ton of fun.  We had been twice during our travels and always thought that the city was big enough to have all the amenities that we love in a city, but small enough that it wasn’t overwhelming or would take hours to get from point A to point B.  On this trip we were able to do a few things that we didn’t do while in our RV.  For one we stayed on Coronado Island at the Hotel del Coronado.  We had taken a tour of this historic hotel the last time we were in town but as there was no space for the RV, we stayed at an Airbnb.  While it was a great hotel and property, unfortunately for us half the property was under renovation construction which was not mentioned at all on their website at the time.  We had a great time there but c’mon hotels….if half your property is under construction please mention that somewhere on your website!

While in San Diego we did a few of our favorite things.  We went on our own food and beverage crawl in downtown’s Little Italy neighborhood, where we went from one restaurant and bar to the next by the recommendation of the bartender/server from the previous one.  We walked around and explored the arts district at Liberty Station.  We hiked around Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument.  We drove over to La Jolla and walked the neighborhood stopping in shops and a few restaurants.  We also of course had to stop at the world-famous San Diego Zoo.  All in all, the four of us had a great time!

Family time in Tampa & Phoenix, AZ

We flew back to Tampa in early March just in time to greet Julie’s parents for a visit.  They had flown into Tampa and spent the first few days of their trip visiting with friends in the Ft. Myers area before venturing north to Tampa to see us.  As they had been to our place prior this was more of a relaxing vacation.  We went to a few restaurants, drove around to a few new spots that had opened up as well as took a nice walk along downtown’s Riverwalk.

As Julie’s parents time in Tampa was ending it was time for our next trip.  We had planned to go see Julie’s brother Patrick and sister in law Sarah in Phoenix and worked it out that Julie’s parents would also go and we would all fly direct from Tampa.  Julie’s parents had planned a double vacation spot of sorts.

Going from the Florida humidity to the Arizona dryness in just a few hours is no laughing matter.  After being in Florida for so long it felt as if the moisture was just sucked out of our skin.  We pressed on though, rented a van and headed to Patrick and Sarah’s.  Over the next few days we had a great time.  We ate out at restaurants, played golf (desert golf courses are my absolute favorite), went to a Seattle Mariners spring training game and just relaxed and hung out together.  It was great!

Covid Makes an Appearance

It was during this time that Covid started to appear in the news.  Julie and I were scheduled to be taking part in summer weddings. We were planning bachelor and bachelorette parties scheduled for April.  This is when Covid really became real.  Discussions were had if it was going to pass, should we cancel, or will it ultimately be cancelled for us?  At this moment we decided to keep things as scheduled.  A few days later though after we had flown back to Tampa is when everything stopped.

Life Stops as we Know It

Early March is beer week in Tampa with the main event being Cigar City’s Hunahpu’s Day.  Hunahpu’s Day is a huge craft beer festival that has gotten so big in the last few years that the event has been held in and around the grounds of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL stadium.  Early in the week it wasn’t known if the event would go on or not.  Smaller beer events in Tampa and St. Petersburg were going on but the day before the big event the news came out….cancelled.  Covid was real and it was here.  The week that followed was when life changed in Tampa and around the country.  Bars and restaurants shut down.  Parks and movie theatres closed.  Life came to a halt as we knew it.

April, May and June came and went, and Julie and I functioned as did many others around the country.  We took the time to continue to work on our beer tourism business although now not sure when we would be able to give tours at all.  We also decided that we wanted to work on ourselves if we couldn’t start our business at the moment.  We put a workout routine together that we worked on every day.  We ate healthier and drank less.  We had our “bubble group” which consisted of a few friends and neighbors.  We were hoping as was everyone that after a few months, Covid would pass, things would go back to normal and we could restart our lives again.

July 2020 came, and things did not get better.  It was at this time that our minds started drifting back to the RV world and life on the road.  We had now been living outside of our RV for 9 months, our longest time away from the RV life in 3 years.  As our tour business was ready to go whenever we could open it, we thought about jumping back into the RV and heading up to Rochester, NY for a few weeks to catch the remaining summer warmth in the north.

Should We RV Again?

We had heard that the RV industry was now booming because of Covid which led us to ask a few questions…. Would campgrounds be full or overcrowded?  Would we be able to get into parks?  Would we be able to enjoy the RV life with Covid restrictions and would people be following these restrictions to stay safe?  While on a drive around Tampa a few days later we thought that Tampa had done the best job that they could have during this situation and the vast majority of city residents had followed protocol. 

Our second thought was that…you know what….we should go.  We didn’t really think that we would be able to go on another long RV trip.  We had thought that we would start our tourism business in April and our days of long road trips would be more or less over.  Covid was actually giving us the opportunity to do this again.  Let’s do it!  Let’s go!

In late July we chose a route, one that bypassed all major cities.  We packed up the van and on August 4, 2020 we hit the road once again.  We were not sure what we would find, how people would react to out of state travelers or even what would be open but as Julie and I always are….We were excited for a new adventure!

Next up….RVing in the Age of Covid.  We start our journey north towards Western New York.

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