I’m an IT business manager. I know eCommerce and the online space. I’ve grown up in the consulting world and will always be a consultant. My wife and I have great careers and make good money. We live in a nice part of Dallas and don’t have to worry about unexpected bills or living paycheck to paycheck. We take fancy vacations and buy nice things for ourselves.

Now throw all of that away. Quit the jobs and jeopardize the future. Lose our main sources of income. Rent out the house and live in a small camper. Experience life among homeless people living in parks. Who are we now?

We spend the majority of our lives developing our profile. We start out of high school or college with choosing our profession and how we’ll make money. We work hard to become the best in the field, and we start to believe we are the person we’ve created.

My first career in consulting proved it paid off to build a strong profile. I never wanted to be a “SAP” guy (business software), but when I saw the bonuses and raises that were attached to the profile, I pursued it! It works out best for a consulting company to develop individuals with strong profiles because they can then bring them in to make the client happy and make more money. However, it’s not always best for the employee, because when that specialty is no longer popular, their value quickly declines.

Sometimes our profile is the creation of something we really wanted to become, but there are also big influencers from the outside. Your parents want you to be successful, your spouse wants you to be happy or rich (or both), companies want you to buy their fancy crap and society wants you to live up to its economic standards.

Whether we like or not, society and culture are two of the biggest influencers of our profiles. Why else do we all dress and act the same? I can’t decide if my next hairstyle will be the man bun or the one where you shave your head up to the sides and keep it long up top…. just like all the other hipsters! We may deviate slightly, but we’re pretty much all living the same. Our tour guide in Indonesia, named Putu, was astonished when we told him we moved away from our parents’ houses in the US and that we lived many hours away. In their culture, the families stay together, in the same compound, within feet of each other. That’s part of their profile.

But what happens when your profile changes? What happens when you decide you no longer want to look rich, but instead want to be rich? What happens when you purposely drive a car with over 200k miles on it, even though you could afford a shiny new one? Or on the other side of it, what happens when you get laid off and you can no longer find a job in your industry – instead having to go work part-time at Home Depot because that’s the only thing you can find?

We become so tangled up in our profiles that we can’t see a life beyond it. That’s why it’s so hard for lifetime “corporate employees” to become entrepreneurs. Corporate employees, myself included, are accustomed to earning paychecks by completing specific tasks and living within the bigger and seemingly safer ecosystem. It’s too scary to try to make money on our own without all of this support.

Profiles feel very empowering when we’re in the middle of them, but when we’re suddenly thrown out, we learn they can actually be quite debilitating. By saying we’re one thing, we’re admitting we’re not the other.

The one driving force of humanity that’s kept us around is our ability to adapt. When we’re thrown in new situations, we can survive and often thrive. We’re not the single profiles we’ve created, but instead a whole range of possible new profiles.

February was the month we’ve dreamed of since we set out on our road trip. We spent 27 out of 28 days in the camper, explored amazing ruins and beautiful landscapes of the west and enjoyed cheap camping along the way. It should be just the start of an incredible five months that leads to our next big decision in life — when we return to Dallas and the real world — but until then, we’re off to explore.

Total February Cost: $3,181
Total days in the camper: 27
Total days out of camper: 1
Cost per day: $114
States Visited: New Mexico, Arizona
Total Miles: 208,009 – 211,770

Summary

We’re very happy with our $114 per day spending in February, especially considering our east coast months were more in the $150/day average! We even had some non-essential “upgrades” we were able to purchase this month that will definitely save us money in the future and allow us to camp off the grid even more. We’ll be in good shape if we can keep to this spending level, although I can already see it increasing as we move past Arizona and into California.

Spending Details

February Spending Report
The Good

There was a whole lot of good in February. If you read my New Mexico and Arizona trip reports and kept up with Facebook, you saw the exploring we were able to do this month. These two states are full of old archaeological sites from those who came before us, and those we shipped off their native land. Their surviving ruins show how integrated their life was with nature and how instead of trying to control nature like we do now, they lived according to it. Most of their structures melted back into the earth from where they came, but there are some remaining sites such as the Gila Cliff Dwellings and numerous cliff dwellings around Sedona, Arizona.

Looking at our expense categories, most of them are in line or below the overall averages. In previous months, we would always have one line item get way out of control which would skyrocket our per day total. The only line item a little high was goods, but I’ll cover that below.

The category we’re most excited about in February was our per day spending with campsites. We were amazed to find the state parks in New Mexico were only $14/day, even with full electric and water hook ups! On the east coast, we’d pay anywhere between $25-$45 per day, and of course the $95 per day in NYC! As we moved into Arizona, we found incredible camping in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest sites that were free!! Of the two weeks we spent in Arizona, we only paid for three nights in Phoenix and that’s because we loved the state park and we needed to clean up after so much time roughing it. On that note, we also spent one night at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler with hotel points to really live the luxury life.

The Bad

I guess we did have one legitimate bad thing in February; we had a blow out on one of our trailer tires while driving through Santa Fe. It could’ve been really bad if we were driving on the highway because there’s horror stories of blowouts tearing up the sides of Airstreams, or even worse, causing a major accident on the highway. Instead, it was a minor annoyance as it happened late in the evening and most tire shops were closing, but luckily we were able to find some guys to help us out (if you ever need tires in the southwest, go to Peerless Tires!!). We spent some money on that and then decided to add a spare for the trailer so if this happened in the middle of Alaska, we wouldn’t end up like the guy in Into the Wild.

We also spent extra time in Phoenix due to another upgrade. After spending 8 days roughing it, our battery was pretty low and we learned driving doesn’t add much juice. If we wanted to continue living our off the grid life, we needed solar power. I started with a crappy 25 watt set up from Wal-Mart, but we learned pretty quickly it wasn’t powerful enough for our needs. As we went through Phoenix, Jocelyn found a solar store that gets great reviews, so we went there. We ended up with a 100 watt kit which included charge controllers and all of the wires (hey dad, they were 10 gauge, you were right) for right around $200! It was a hell of a deal and after researching solar for the previous month, we were happy to find a set up that works for us. It keeps our battery fully charged with all of the sun in the southwest, so the only reason we’re pulled back into civilization is for fresh water and to dump (the tanks).

The Ugly

We drove a lot between the two states and if you were to analyze our route on a map, you’d think we were crazy. In both states, we stayed mostly south, but then took a quick trip up north before heading back south again. This was by plan though, because we had two areas we really wanted to visit in the north of each state, and when the weather decided to cooperate, we shot up to enjoy 3-4 days in Santa Fe (New Mexico) and Sedona (Arizona) before plunging back south as the cold weather moved back in. We were happy to take on the extra miles.

Overall, our February travels were amazing. We were able to settle into our westwardly way of camper living, explored some incredible sites and did some great hiking along the way. We continue to outfit the Airstream to our needs, but we also think about what is next. We don’t know about the real world yet, but I think it’d be fun to start making bad ass camper vans… you know, the old conversion vans with 4×4 tires, grill guards and a roof rack? If we had that, we really could go anywhere…

These are all pics from around Sedona – this place is beautiful!

Cliff dwellings and Petroglyphs from sites around Sedona

Night time skies around Arizona and New Mexico

Some of Jocelyn’s great pics from around Arizona

Our flat tire and the great guy (Michael) who came after hours to fix it!

After New Mexico, our westwardly route took us over to Arizona. While New Mexico has an easily identifiable profile – culture, food, geography, etc… I don’t feel Arizona has the same. Based on my previous visits, I knew it had some fancy stuff around Phoenix, some cool desert towns up north along Route 66, a racist sheriff in the south and apparently a lot of spring training for MLB teams.

After our two weeks through the state, I’m still not able to identify an overall profile, but I can at least add some more descriptors! The main ones would be: snow birds, lots of great archaeological sites, great free camping and beautiful landscapes. Let’s get to the trip.

As we headed to Arizona, we took the typical few hours before arrival to research where we should visit. Jocelyn found a national monument in eastern Arizona that was within driving distance, so we headed that way to Chiricahua National Monument. Have you ever heard of the place before? We sure hadn’t.

If you’ve ever visited Bryce Canyon National Park, you’d recognize some of the geographical formations, but in a more yellowish-tone, rather than the orange and red of Bryce. We completed a roughly 8.5 mile hike through the main highlights and were blown away by the natural beauty. Rock formations like “balanced rock” and “duck on a rock” didn’t take much imagination to name, because they were exactly that… big rocks that were stacked high upon columns and resembled different shapes.

The main campsites fill up months in advance, so Jocelyn wasn’t surprised when we arrived late in the afternoon to no availability. However, I was a bit surprised because she failed to mention this bit of information which might have persuaded me to drive in a different direction and skip it altogether! Instead, we started the first of many off road excursions with Penny Lane across Arizona. We took a six mile drive down a heavily rutted gravel and dirt road where the only other traffic were really, really interesting hippies in vans you’d imagine hippies driving. The best was the old school bus that was pulling a VW van… double cool.

We managed to skip the hippy camps which must have been farther down the road, and instead settled on a nice treed site next to a creek. Oh yes, and it was free. If we had a main theme in Arizona, it was “find the awesome BLM and National Forest sites six miles off the paved road where the amazing camping is free!“.

We headed out after one night and left the rough road, only to find another. This time we headed north to Tucson and found some more BLM land, six miles up a pretty steep gravel road with ruts, that’s not recommended for trailers. I guess we saw this as a challenge instead of a recommendation. We spent the next two nights waiting out some cold and rainy weather while enjoying good views high over Tucson.

After Tucson, we had to decide which direction to turn, either south to hug the border or north up past Phoenix and to Sedona. As with most of our destination decisions, weather was the deciding factor and a three day warm spell meant we were headed to Sedona! We heard good things about the city previously from friends, so we were excited to add it to our trip.

As we left Tucson, we stopped in Phoenix to hit up the outlet malls so Jocelyn could get some new pants. We had been roughing it for a few days and we were getting to the point where either our bodies fully fought odors and no longer smelled, or our noses gave up the fight and we simply couldn’t smell ourselves. Jocelyn headed in to the mall while I stayed out with Lucy (I wasn’t ready for that much civilization) and when she texted me that she was headed to the fragrance aisle to freshen up, I knew it was time to take action. As you might know, I traveled for work and know my way around hotel programs. There’s a Sheraton Wild Horse Pass that was only a half mile away, and the points redemption wasn’t too high, so I made the call that it was time to fancy up.

We timed our visit so we maximized our one day at the hotel, arriving right around the 1pm check in time. I used my method to guarantee upgrades – slipped the front desk guy a $20 bill with my license on check in – and we were paid back kindly with a nice corner suite with a separate bedroom and $20 in drink coupons! This is the forth time I’ve done this trick, and while Jocelyn finds it extremely awkward, it’s worked every time and has been well appreciated by the front desk agents!

We spent the next day in total luxury and soaked up as much free internet and hot water as we could. We hit up the casino next door, got our $10 each in free slot play for signing up to their rewards program, and cashed out $17 ahead! It wasn’t a big amount, but usually we lose, so we were pumped. The next day was in 70’s so we spent the morning poolside before timing our last shower just before check out. On to Sedona.

Sedona. Wow, let me just tell you about Sedona. It’s reallll beautiful – a small town surrounded by mountains of red beauty. We kept up our theme and drove 10 miles on a dirt road to find one of the most beautiful campsites of our entire trip – once again, free, in a national forest. We spent the next few days watching the sun set over the beautiful red rocks, exploring the town (this only took a few hours) and doing one of our most exciting hikes of the trip – the “Hangover Trail” which was around five miles on a ridge of a mountain overlooking Sedona and the surrounding beauty. We really enjoyed the town and will definitely go back.

Let’s talk archaeological sites. As you probably know by now, I’m fairly obsessed with them. We had some good ones in New Mexico, but I was also very pleasantly surprised by what Arizona had to offer. Just around the Sedona area there are at least five major sites to see cliff dwellings and petroglyphs – Montezuma’s Castle, Montezuma’s Well, Hananki, Palatki, and V-Bar-V. We hit them all up but the last, so that will be left for next time. These were all sites of the Sinaguan people and really shows how many people civilized the area pre-Columbus. I’m continually astonished by the number of Native American ruins in the southwest.

After Sedona we headed to Phoenix in search of solar. Solar panels are a pretty complicated deal and if anyone can easily explain them, you probably have a bright future. My first set was a cheap Wal-Mart deal with a 25 watt panel. We realized after a few days this wasn’t going to do much and we needed to upgrade. We found a great retail location in Phoenix (Solar Penny) and spent $200 to get a 100w panel with a charge controller and all of the hook-ups. It was a great deal, and I’m happy to say it’s kept the battery fully charged in the southwest sun, and we may never need to plug in to the electric again! It was a good investment that will continue to pay off in the future as we won’t need to pay for electric sites just to recharge the battery.

Our last stop in Arizona was the Kofa National Wildlife refuge, just north of Yuma. We once again dove south to avoid the next cold front, which isn’t great for gas expenses, but at least we are able to avoid the cold. We continued our off road theme and took Penny Lane down a seven mile gravel road, across a proving (bombing) range and over a small creek where she bottomed out and I had to build a small bridge of rocks to get her over. Yes, that all really happened.

The site in Kofa was once again, free and incredibly beautiful. We spent the next two days hunkered down to avoid the cold rain… and uh, the bombs. Apparently, it’s an active proving ground – and why they have it next to an active “wildlife refuge”??? We felt we were somewhere in the middle east, with the desert beneath our feet and the sounds of bombs dropping in the distance. While we enjoyed it, we knew it was time to head out to California… after, of course, I built a new bridge with wood and ramps to get us over the ravine on the way out!

Arizona was a lot of fun and even though we missed wide swaths of it, we were able to get a good feel and find areas we’d go back and explore again. I guess the state profile includes – lots of potential to explore and return. On to California!

Some highlights from the Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona

Some of my favorite archaeological sites in the US are in Arizona, Montezuma’s Castle (top) and Montezuma’s Well (bottom). Can you see the cliff dwellings in the bottom pic?

Pics from two archaeological sites very close to Sonoma, AZ – Hananki and Palatki, both ruins from the Sinagua people.

Our one night refresh in the beautiful Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort!

After a short stint in Texas, our next state to visit is one of our favorites, New Mexico. I became intrigued with the state after visiting the second biggest city, Santa Fe, the first time quite a while ago and experiencing the unique food, culture and architecture. The long history of Native Americans combined with the Mexican culture and Spanish influence has made it a melting pot full of awesomeness.

Making it even more interesting, there’s an incredible variety of geographical diversity. We started at one of the most unique sites in New Mexico and one of the best cave systems in the US, Carlsbad Caverns. I last visited when I was about five years old and don’t remember much more than the audio tour device that hung around my neck.

The cave has two entrances – the natural entrance with an 800+ foot, 1 mile decent into the cave and the unnatural entrance – an elevator! We timed it pretty well because the elevator was out of service so we only had one way in and one way out. It was pretty exhausting, but it did mean fewer people in the cave. After the descent, we toured the “big room” which is a 1.5 mile loop around the largest cavern and is full of nice formations.

The National Parks service offers tours inside the cave that are worth it. We paid $7/each to do the “lantern tour” which mimicked the experience of the early explorers entering the caverns for the first time with nothing more than a lantern. It included a great history and archaeological tour where we learned all about the formation of the caverns, all while carrying our little candle lanterns. At one point we blew out the lights and experienced total cave darkness. If you ever are in complete darkness, wave your hand in front of your face… if you can see an outline of your hand, it means you’re crazy (it actually means your mind expects to see your hand there, so it creates a shadowy image of it… I saw mine and it was crazy (or I’m crazy?)).

The park service also offers some deep cave exploring, but unfortunately they don’t start until March and they may not even start this year due to the new “freeze” in hiring for all federal departments.

After Carlsbad Caverns, we headed north to catch a few days in Santa Fe before the next winter storm rolled in. We had to check out the alien-themed city of Roswell along the way, although we skipped the “International UFO Museum” which is mostly reviewed as overrated.

We visited Santa Fe for a specific purpose, to see if we want to live there next. Jocelyn grew up visiting the city as it was one of her parents’ favorites and close to her home state of Colorado. We loved living in New Orleans with incredible food and unique culture, but unfortunately (unless you love fishing) there’s a lack of outdoor activities and definitely no mountains. Santa Fe ticks most of those boxes and has impressive mountains, but it’s colder and you never will get a hurrication (like snow days for you northerners).

We spent too much on restaurants to further investigate if we prefer green or red chili, we hiked around the national forests just outside of Santa Fe and we checked out some of the neighborhoods to see if we could afford to live there. It’s a popular city for people who have lots of money, but unfortunately there’s not a big economy to actually make a lot of money. They say the best way to make one million dollars in Santa Fe is to start with two million!

I also wanted to spend some time exploring some of the archaeological sites around New Mexico, so we headed over to the Pecos National Historic Site. It’s around 30 minutes east of Santa Fe and around 800 years ago it was one of the larger pueblos in the area. It was a meeting point between the Plains Indians and the Pueblo Indians due to it’s location, so the Pecos smartly set up their village to control it. It was a thriving pueblo even after the Spanish tried to “civilize them” in the 1500’s.

Did you know there’s an archaeological site in New Mexico with over 21,000 petroglyphs spread along a ridge?! Well, I sure didn’t and it just adds to the fascinating archaeological sites all along New Mexico. It’s called Three Rivers Petroglyphs and it’s free to visit. The petroglyphs are over 800-1,000 years old and while many of them are getting pretty worn by weather and unsavory tourists, there are still many stunning petroglyphs that tell the stories of times past. It has quickly jumped near the top of my favorite archaeological sites in the US.

We wanted to visit White Sands National Monument next, but the weather was pretty crappy and a cold front was coming in, so we skipped it. We headed farther south to look for an electric site to run our heater, only to find the next two state parks were full of snowbirds! They’re everywhere around here because it’s warm, and they stay because they can buy a $100 annual senior state park pass and then they only pay $4/night for an electric camp site! It’s kinda crazy because they stay at campsites that don’t even have anything around… just to find a warm and cheap escape.

We finally found an electric site at Pancho Villa State Park, which is just a few miles from the Mexican border. It’s the location Pancho Villa raided in the 1910’s and besides that, there’s not much to the small town. The highlight is to headed over to Polamos, Mexico to get some cheap margaritas and Mexican food – which of course, we did. You can also get cheap dental work and plastic surgery, but we decided against that for now.

We nearly skipped our last stop in New Mexico, Gila National Monument, because the difficulty of reaching it. At one point it was the most difficult National Monument to visit in the US due to the poor infrastructure and because it’s out in the middle of nowhere! We headed up the “easiest” way to get there which was recommended for campers in RV’s, but we had to turn around three miles from our destination because a water crossing over the road was too high!

We turned around and decided to stay in the city and drive to the monument the next day without the camper. However, after spending a few minutes at the city RV park, we changed our minds and didn’t want to pay $33/night to stay in a park full of shady characters. The last option was to take the route not recommended for cars over 20 feet because of steep grades and hairpin turns – for 45 miles and two hours! With some careful driving and a nerve-wracking two hours, we made it to our camp site.

We spent the next day exploring the national monument – which was worth the drive. We did the main loop where you get to see and walk through the cliff dwellings, then we completed a few other hikes through the park. It just adds to my archaeological intrigue with the southwest and reminds me of how full the United State really was before mass disease and genocide wiped out the Native Americans.

Okay, that was a sad way to end it… but don’t let that influence your decision on whether to visit New Mexico :). We’re passing through for now, but I’m sure we’ll be back in the future. On to Arizona.

Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Three Rivers Petroglyphs

Three Rivers Petroglyphs

We found this small piece of pottery in the village at Three Rivers Petroglyphs. It's amazing to think it's over 1,000 years old and you can still see the intricate details. We left it there, of course.

We found this small piece of pottery in the village at Three Rivers Petroglyphs. It’s amazing to think it’s over 1,000 years old and you can still see the intricate details. We left it there, of course.

On the left, a lantern tour through Carlsbad... on the right, young cave explorers (including me)!

On the left, a lantern tour through Carlsbad… on the right, young cave explorers (including me – the smallest on the left)!

Just outside of Santa Fe is Pecos National Historical Park. This is the actual church the Spanish commissioned the Indians to build.. so they could save them from savagery.

Just outside of Santa Fe is Pecos National Historical Park. This is the actual church the Spanish commissioned the Indians to build.. so they could save them from savagery.

Our little visitor in Roswell!

Our little visitor in Roswell!

These are some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the regions, Gila Cliff Dwellings

These are some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the regions, Gila Cliff Dwellings

First Lifestyle, Then Work?

February 18, 2017 — 4 Comments

Lifestyles are a major contributor to our happiness, but most often they’re designed around the remaining time we can squeeze from the rest of our life. It’s hard to live a lifestyle of pursuing the things you love if you’re working 80 hours a week.

What would happen if we redesigned our lives around a lifestyle we loved? For the first ten years of my post-college graduate life, my job determined my lifestyle. For the first seven years, I worked for Accenture and traveled Monday through Thursday for 90% of the year. I spent weekends back home in Dallas, but much of the time was used to catch up on the things I missed during the week – appointments, shopping, errands and any other time I could squeeze out to catch up with friends or my then girlfriend.

My weeks were filled with a lifestyle designed around my job. Even though I usually flew out on Monday morning, I’d dedicate time on Sunday evening to packing, ironing and finishing up whatever other errands popped up before heading out. Besides giving me the chance to work face to face with my client, the travel was also advantageous to my employer because it meant I was pretty much there to focus on work. There were no “outside” distractions we face at home like family, friends, clubs and organizations, volunteer activities, personal hobbies or errands. We were there to focus on work.

If I wanted to hang out with friends, it was only the people I was working with at the time. Sometimes that was good, but on other projects like when I traveled to Philadelphia for 1.5 years, I was the only consultant, so most evenings were spent alone. I didn’t mind too much because I was reading and writing a lot and the travel perks were pretty amazing, between hotel points, flight upgrades and extra cash from my per diem.

The job was still a really great opportunity where I learned a ton, met a lot of great people and made good money, but I was so over the travel. I left Accenture in 2011 and went to HP so I wouldn’t have to travel as much and could actually spend time with my wife. It worked out for a while and life was pretty balanced because I was working from home (which presents its own challenges), and I even got to take an unpaid leave in 2013 to travel the world for ten months!

After we came back to work in 2014, things really picked up. I was fortunate to get a promotion to Manager and the new project I joined back on was incredibly challenging and my wife also got a new job. Over the course of the next two years, HP separated, acquired multiple companies and went through a bevy of changes which required some intense work. In the end, I was managing a team of 60+ people globally and a website with hundreds of thousands of users. My day usually started with 100+ emails overnight from Asia and Europe, continued with 10 hours of conference calls during the day, and ended with conference calls with Asia sometimes until 10 or 11 at night. We also worked at least one weekend a month to deliver code to the new website and if the site ever went down at night or over the weekend, I also got to work! Needless to say, I was out of balance again.

I felt privileged to have such a good opportunity to deliver challenging work, make friends with so many people around the world and make some really good money, but it was taking a toll on my mental and physical health. My life was incredibly out of balance, and I wasn’t living the lifestyle I wanted, so we made the difficult decision to quit.

My wife and I have thought a lot about the lifestyle we love and are mostly in agreement (I doubt we’ll ever be in full agreement, but that’s fine). We landed somewhere around here:

  1. Ability to take long vacations domestically and internationally to explore the world
  2. Work similar schedules so we can enjoy each other’s company
  3. Include enough time to catch up with friends and family
  4. Pursue work we enjoy and can make money
  5. Pursue work that provides meaningful interactions and allow us to create or be a part of a community
  6. Earn enough money to do the things we want to do!

Anytime I think of a new career or job opportunity, I try to run it through that filter first. Previously when I thought about entrepreneurship opportunities, I only thought about how much money I could make off of it. Could it get me rich? I never pursued any of those opportunities because the idea would get old pretty fast, indicating I wouldn’t have been successful anyway.

I know many people will think I’m a total asshole for writing this because it’s such a “first world problem”. Most people will never get the opportunity to think about a “lifestyle first” approach due to just getting by paycheck to paycheck or sacrificing your life for the kids. However, there’s always something you can do to move that direction. For us, pursuing this lifestyle first approach motivated us to work really hard and save lots of money, so we can entertain it. I may end up going back to a corporate job that once again eliminates my lifestyle list above, but I’m sure as hell going to try hard not to!

The first journey of our westwardly bound road trip took us south to find some warmer temperatures and hiking opportunities. We almost skipped Big Bend National Park because it was a little bit out of the way, but we decided not to because neither of us had been before. It’s a surprisingly mountainous landscape in an otherwise mostly flat to moderately hill-countried Texas. Although it can be a a long drive from most of the major Texas cities, it’s definitely worth the gas.

Big Bend’s wide open desert landscapes are only interrupted by the many seemingly barren mountains that frame it in. Not until you drive up the most popular area, Chisos Basin, do you realize there’s actually a wide variety of ecosystems in the park including forests, grassy meadows and even a spring-fed oasis. It’s the kind of variety that makes the many hikes in the park worth experiencing.

We ended up staying for eight days as we skipped between two somewhat developed campsites, and then spent three days in a back country site three miles down a gravel road! It was great to experience the quiet and secluded nature of the desert. Big Bend is known for its great stars and we got some dark and clear nights to enjoy them. Here’s our attempt to capture Penny Lane lit up with the stars! We saw a professional photographer do it, but his didn’t look like aliens were circling the camper.


Overall, we hiked 25+ miles, including a major 15 mile hike that included the tallest mountain in Big Bend, Emory Peak. The campsites only cost us $14/day and the back country only required a $12 permit which was good for up to two weeks, so the minimal budget impact made me quite happy!

Big Bend isn’t for everyone though. You need an adventurous spirit and a longing for the great outdoors to truly enjoy it. Even the “developed” campsites are pretty undeveloped as none of them include showers or electric, but you can pay to shower at a camp store close to one of the sites. Big Bend does have a pretty nice restaurant and lodge which includes hotel rooms and separate cabins and you can find wifi around the visitor centers.

After Big Bend, we headed east through one of the more scenic drives in the US, from Lajitas to Presidio in Texas. The drive starts at the ghost town of Lajitas and continues through the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road borders the Rio Grande River most of the way and takes you through the beautiful Chihuahua mountains with views of river meadows, tall mountains and little towns on both sides of the border along the way. Luckily, there was no big ugly wall to get in the way of the views.

Did you know there’s an artsy little town in the middle of nowhere, Texas? It’s called Marfa and it was once a sleepy little country town, but it’s been taken over by hipsters riding their street cruisers, wearing old-timey hats and just being artists. It apparently started thanks to a minimalist artist from the east coast who set up shop and set to transform the town. It’s actually quite a cool little town, but I’d consider it a detour rather than a destination.

The next destination was Guadalupe National Park on the eastern edge of Texas. The park includes the tallest mountain in Texas and portions of the largest fossilized permian reef, which is apparently the major reason why it’s a national park. We hiked up the tallest peak in the park, Guadalupe Peak which also happens to be the tallest mountain in Texas at over 8,700 feet! We were pretty surprised by the difficulty of the hike, which climbed 3,000 feet in 4.2 miles. It was a great hike and even included some snowy passages; it seemed much more like Colorado than Texas.

The main campsite is nothing more than a parking lot, but it’s cheap at $8/night and many of the major trail heads were just outside our door. It also provides for some good socializing because you can’t get away from anyone! We’ve also learned that many people are taking the same westwardly route as us, and we saw at least three groups who we also ran into at Big Bend. One afternoon seven of us met up for coffee and hung out for a few hours as the sunset. It was fun to trade stories, meet new friends and get tips on what to see next. To the west we go!

Here are some of our hiking videos:

 

and some more pictures:

Taking in the sunset in our backcountry site, Paint Gap 1

Taking in the sunset in our backcountry site, Paint Gap 1

View from the South Rim in Big Bend National Park

View from the South Rim in Big Bend National Park


All around Marfa!

Just when we nearly gave up hope on making it to Alaska because we’re spending too much, we met our $100/day goal in January! It was thanks to family who let us stick around longer than originally planned and let us “mooch-dock”, but as you’ll see below, they got a new bathroom out of it! January was a relaxing month with minimal exploring but lots of great family time, but we’re now headed west!

Total December Cost: $2,261
Total days in the camper: 7
Total days out of camper: 24
Cost per day: $73
States Visited: Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana
Total Miles: 2,152

Summary

We kept our January expenses down by staying close to home, or in my case, at my parents’ house! We planned to spend a few weeks in Oklahoma anyway, but we added another week to help them remodel and to cut down our costs. We’ve been spending way too much dang money and even though the stock market keeps going up and offsetting our extra spending, we can’t count on it forever. Here’s the breakdown:

january-spending-report

The Good

When you get a month under $100, there’s lots of good… when you get all the way down to $73/day, it’s even better! I can almost guarantee this will be our lowest monthly spending and when we account for our rental income, we won’t have to dip into our savings much at all to cover January.

The only reason we kept our spending so low is because we stayed with family for over three weeks. We didn’t plan to, but when we talked my parents into renovating their bathroom, we had to stick around to finish the job! I figured it would take 7-10 days, but it took two weeks thanks to some major plumbing work and lots of tiling. In return for our labor, my parents wouldn’t let us spend any money, so it really paid off! Here’s the final outcome, and I’ll add some more renovation pictures below:

Here's the mostly completed renovation! Jocelyn and my mom did the designing which turned out great.

Here’s the mostly completed renovation! Jocelyn and my mom did the designing which turned out great.

We also spent time with Jocelyn’s family around Oklahoma and they took care of us. I think everyone was afraid that if we spent too much money before our house lease was up in August, we might move back in with them later!

We made it back on the road for the last week in January and drove all the way down to Big Bend National Park in Texas. It’s the perfect time to visit because we avoided the 115 degree summers and instead enjoy 70 degree days and chilly desert nights. Bend National Park only costs $14/day in the campsites and $12 total for a back country permit that’s good for two weeks! We won’t stay that long, but we will get four cheap days out of it.

The Bad

As we head west, gas prices are already increasing. It’s still around $2/gallon in most of Texas, but we paid $2.75/gallon for one fill-up in Big Bend since it’s so remote. We talked to another camper who visited Canada and Alaska last summer and he said to expect a 75% budget increase for food and gas. Yikes! We’ll have to keep managing our budget closely the next few months by minimizing our miles, food costs and maximizing our cheap campground stays. It should be pretty easy through New Mexico and Arizona as they’re full of free Bureau of Land Management sites, but as we arrive in California by mid-March, we don’t expect to find the same.

The Ugly

Even with all of the support of family, our spending still felt higher than what it could’ve been. A big part of it is the regular bills which continue to stay quite high, but at this point, we’ll just have to adjust our monthly budget accordingly. I use the category as a catch all, but when you have things like cell phone bills, health insurance and other insurances, the total jumps up pretty quickly.

As if it wasn’t obvious enough, we’re excited to get back on the road and finally explore the west. Our last week in Big Bend has been everything we’ve hoped for – long hikes in beautiful desert landscapes, temperatures in the 70s, incredible night skies and cheaper accommodations. We even had an impromptu Airstream rally in Big Bend when 8 Airstreams just happened to park next to each other! Penny Lane was the oldest as the rest were all post-2005, so we had fun showing it off and dreaming over the newer and much more expensive Airstreams. Actually, I didn’t dream over it at all, I love the vintage look :).

I’ll probably write a dedicated Big Bend post with some of Jocelyn’s great pics, but here are a few I took:

A view of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

A view of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is full of beautiful desert landscapes.

Big Bend National Park is full of beautiful desert landscapes.

 

We had to fully gut the bathroom! It took a lot of work from my dad and I, but with help from my mom and Jocelyn, we knocked it out!

We had to fully gut the bathroom! It took a lot of work from my dad and I, but with help from my mom and Jocelyn, we knocked it out!

They say history doesn’t repeat, but instead it rhymes. Well dang it, I guess our rhyme is: no matter what we try, our costs stay sky high! The problem this time was similar to what has bugged us in the past, regular bills that keep hitting us along with high restaurant costs. I even took our Christmas spending out of the report because with that included, we’ve really gone bonkers. Let’s break it down.

Total December Cost: $4,727
Total days in the camper: 18
Total days out of camper: 13
Cost per day: $152
States Visited: Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma
Total Miles: 3,077

Summary

Our per day spending for December ended at $152, our highest of the last three months we’ve been traveling. While some areas of spending were the lowest of the last three months (campsite, excursion, food), two others really took it over the top: restaurant spending and regular bills. If I take regular bills out, we actually had one of the cheapest months so far.

Spending Details

december-spending-report

The Good

After Thanksgiving, we left Louisville with Jocelyn’s mom in tow and headed to Nashville for a one-night stopover. We checked to see if anything was going on, and there just happened to be a Charlie Daniels concert! It was his 80th birthday party and “volunteer jam” – an annual concert to raise money for veterans. It was a lot of fun with singers like Three Doors Down, Kid Rock, Travis Tritt, Luke Bryan and Chris Stapleton each singing a few songs… and Charlie Daniels, of course.

The most interesting part of the concert was when an older fellow was expressing his feelings towards Luke Bryan (with two middle fingers) while Bryan was singing one of his womanizing songs. Bryan waved him up towards the stage and when the guy got close enough, Bryan slapped/punched him in the face! I used to think Bryan’s music was okay, but now I really can’t stand it because all of his songs involve a “tan legged country girl” who’s there for his pleasure!

After Nashville, we headed to the east coast and visited Charleston, Edisto Island and Savannah before looping back through Florida. We were really surprised to see the damage still left behind from Hurricane Matthew, with beach houses torn up and many trees still down along the coast. As we headed back east through Florida, Jocelyn found one of our favorite campsites yet, Grayton Beach State Park. We spent five days bouncing between the beautiful little oceanside towns of Seaside, Watercolor and Grayton and even enjoyed a few days on the beach in 70 degree temperatures! It was a nice break from the previous three months of winter we were trying to escape.

While all of that was fun, the real purpose of our December trip was catching up with friends and family. Friend time fully started after Grayton Beach when we made our way to one of our favorite cities, New Orleans. We lived there for 3.5 years before leaving for our world trip in 2013 and were lucky enough to find some great friends. We spent four days catching up and enjoying some of the many fabulous restaurants around New Orleans… which also explains why our restaurant bills were so high for December!!

After New Orleans, we headed north back into the cold weather, and spent five days with our friends around our most recent home city, Dallas. We were able to fit Penny Lane into our friend’s backyard, and they let us shack up with them. It was fun to spend the pre-Christmas days with them because they have an adorable three year old daughter who was very excited about Christmas.

After Dallas, we headed even further into the cold and spent the rest of December in Tulsa, bouncing between our families and celebrating the holidays. All of the free nights with family and friends brought our daily camping costs way down, but we definitely made up for it with higher spending on restaurants and booze :).

The Bad

As I seem to say every month, if we don’t get our expenses under control, we’ll be forced to end our trip early so we don’t have to dig into our savings and investments too much. Will we make it to Alaska… we’ll know soon enough!

The Ugly

The most surprising expenses came from the “regular bills” category because a bunch of crap piled up at once. We pay our six months of car insurance in advance so that was a big one, my annual blog hosting service also hit us for ~$400 (yes, even though I do this blogging for free, I still have to pay for it!), and we had a small medical procedure that also hit us for ~$500. Remove all of those three and our expenses for December would’ve been quite low!

The medical procedure could’ve been a lot worse because I screwed up our Obamacare health insurance in 2016 and let it expire in November because I didn’t have the autopay set up correctly! We told the doctor we didn’t have insurance and they gave us the Medicaid rates which I think are equivalent to being a “cash customer”. When we paid, I asked the administrator what it would’ve cost with insurance, and it would’ve been at least 4-5 times higher! It’s pretty crazy to think things are more expensive through insurance than as a regular cash customer.

Our third month on the road finished up our time on the east coast and reacquainted us with great friends and family along the way. It reintroduced past issues of overspending but rewarded with great friends and family time. After we get back on the road in another week, we’ll finally head west to explore some of the greatest parks and scenery in the world.

By the way, if you’re wondering why my Facebook page has gone silent, it’s because we’ve been helping my parents renovate their bathroom! We’ve gutted and subsequently rebuilt it over the last two weeks and hope to be completely finished in a couple of days! I’ll add some more pictures on Facebook so you can see the results, but as I’ve mentioned before, there are benefits to letting us squat with you!!

Some of Jocelyn's pictures from Pisgah National Forest and The Great Smokies. Most of the National Park was closed due to the fires, so we'll have to save that for next time.

Some of Jocelyn’s pictures from Pisgah National Forest and The Great Smokies. Most of the National Park was closed due to the fires, so we’ll have to save that for next time.

 

 

The top left picture is a damaged house on Edisto Island. The other pictures are from the beach around Edisto Island.

The top left picture is a damaged house on Edisto Island. The other pictures are from the beach around Edisto Island.

We found the beach! The top right picture shows the Airstream food trucks along Seaside, Florida.

We found the beach! The top right picture shows the Airstream food trucks along Seaside, Florida.

New Orleans! Lucy spent some time in the Quarter and then we parked Penny Lane on our old street and had a good ol neighborhood party!! We're so lucky to have such great friends in New Orleans.

New Orleans! Lucy spent some time in the Quarter and then we parked Penny Lane on our old street and had a good ol neighborhood party!! We’re so lucky to have such great friends in New Orleans.

As the time ticks down in 2016, we find ourselves saying goodbye to the east coast. It was the beginning of our great American road trip full of unknowns but with an ambitious schedule of visiting every state on the east coast in a little over 2.5 months. It was complicated by a break down and a sick dog, but it was rewarded with visits to places we’d never been, time spent with friends who had grown distant and surprises of the great outdoors offered on the east coast.

After D.C., we headed through Shenandoah National Park to Kentucky and Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, and then headed back east through Nashville, the Great Smokies, Charleston, Savannah, Grayton Beach in Florida and then back through New Orleans and Dallas to spend some quality time with friends. We’ll spend some time in Oklahoma and Texas before continuing our journey west. If you follow my Facebook page, you saw most of the highlights through pictures, so I’ll leave it there until the December spending report where I’ll add some more on the trip. Instead, I want to do some self-analysis.

The most common question we got when traveling the world in 2013 is the same question we most commonly receive now: What’s your favorite place? It’s a generous question because it allows us to feel like we’re an expert handing out advice. When you quit your job and question what your purpose has become, it offers some purpose – that we’re out exploring and bringing back our findings to friends and family. It also forces us to focus on our travels and really think about what we’ve enjoyed most.

Just like when answering the question in 2013 after the around the world trip, my answer usually starts with “it depends on what you’re looking for” and includes multiple answers. Maybe it’s because I don’t like giving my “favorite place” as an absolute answer – just like when I watch a great movie and will put it in my “top 5” – or it might be just because there are so many cools places out there! By the way, the world trip favorites usually include Nepal, Turkey and Iceland… but New Zealand, Croatia, Israel and Jordan were also amazing… along with other places too of course!

With all that being said, I do have some answers for our current trip. The Adirondacks were beautiful, the White Mountains in New Hampshire were very surprising because I hadn’t really heard of them before, and Washington, D.C. was incredible! It was so gratifying to visit our friends in various cities and see how they live and we also met some nice people along the way.

The second most frequent question is some combination of “have you found yourself” or “do you know what you want to do next”? The second question is usually from people who know I quit my job in the corporate world to possibly pursue some entrepreneurial stuff. Well, I haven’t found that thing I’d be able to throw all my time and passion behind yet, but the things I love doing and don’t love doing have definitely been reinforced. It’s tough sometimes because you think this magical idea will just appear, but often they don’t. I gained some good insight when talking to my entrepreneur friend on finding opportunities and he put it this way:

People think of ideas/opportunities as “bubbles” that float in the air and can be captured by simply grabbing the right one. But in reality, you should look for people instead of these magical bubbles because all ideas and opportunities are tied to people. You have to network and find the right people that will lead to the next opportunity.

He ended it by saying you don’t find your passion, you grow your passion. I appreciated his encouragement and his insistence to stay patient.

The final question we sometimes get is “has this changed your perspective on life”. Honestly, I didn’t expect much perspective change in this trip because we wouldn’t be exposed to as much cultural change like the world trip, but Jocelyn pointed out a great one.

This trip has pushed us out of our normal social circles and forced us to see other ways of living. We both had great jobs in Dallas and most of our friends did as well. We weren’t exposed to much poverty, only through stories on television or homeless people asking for spare change on the side of the road, both of which were easy to avoid. We weren’t arrogant or willfully ignorant of these issues, we were just isolated.

However, when traveling in a camper, you can’t avoid it. We first noticed it with a potential campsite in NYC which was pretty far from city and didn’t have showers. Jocelyn researched online how to shower in NYC, and the most readily information came from homeless people who gave tips on which bathrooms you could use to give yourself a sponge bath – as long as you were discrete and cleaned up after yourself, some stores wouldn’t notice. We found a closer campsite with showers, so in the end we didn’t have to worry about it.

We noticed it again in Washington, D.C. when we saw people living out of their cars at the campsite. There’s is an automatic distrust our society has developed in people living in these conditions – they must be dangerous if they’re homeless and living out of their car, so we usually avoided them.

It continued when we were staying in a state park outside of New Orleans and there were people leaving in the campsite – even though you weren’t supposed to be there longer than two weeks. The first night we were there, our towels were stolen from the dryer in the group laundry, and automatically our minds went to charging the long term guests as the thieves. The next day Jocelyn was talking to one of the suspects in the same laundry room when the older lady answered Jocelyn’s question of “How long are you staying” by explaining how sometimes people get down on their luck and don’t have many options. She was staying in a small camper with her two 40+ year old sons as they were trying to figure out how they were going to make their life stable again.

We never figured out who stole our towels, but they remained the main suspects, mostly due to the distrust they automatically received by the position they were in. There’s no way it could’ve been the nice older couple in the expensive Airstream, right?

We’re very lucky to be able to take time off and travel the U.S. We’re lucky to have money saved up and invested that we can live off of while we travel. We’re lucky to be able to afford an expensive car repair bill or medical bill that could easily send others into the same state as some of the people we’ve met along the way. Once you start moving down these downward spirals, it can be very hard to get out and soon you could be facing the same kind of assumptions of your character based on your financial position. It’s definitely provided perspective.

After the holidays, we’ll head west as our road trip continues. I’ll update you as we find more answers… and of course, ask me if you have more questions!

lucy2-airstream

We’ve made it through our second month on the road. It’s usually at this point you start to adjust to the new way of life or go running back to the old way. That’s one thing we’ve figured out as we’ve transitioned through different phases – just married, traveling the world, new jobs and moving back… after 4-6 weeks it’s no longer a “new thing”, but it just becomes your way of life. The best news of the month – our 4Runner made it another 3,000 miles without any issues! Let’s look at the overall stats:

Total November Cost: $4,321
Total days in the camper: 21
Total days out of camper: 9
Cost per day: $144
States Visited: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee
Total Miles: 2,968

Summary

The total spend was still quite high at $4,321 and higher than the $100/month I’d like to get us down to. A lot was due to the areas we visited, really expensive areas like NYC and DC and some of the expensive things we did there – like eat! Come on, we couldn’t make it all the way to NYC and not enjoy the food scene, right??

Spending Details

november-spending

The Good

Surprisingly, we spent 9 days out of the camper in November, which means we avoided campsite expenses. A few of these days were spent with a friend in Rhode Island, and the rest were spent living with the relatives during Thanksgiving. This led to other higher bills I’ll discuss in a bit, but overall it still saved us money.

I was actually surprised to see how low our gas expense was because we traveled a lot. In order to celebrate Thanksgiving with both our families, we left the east coast and D.C. to drive nine hours to Louisville, drop off the camper, and then ten hours to Tulsa! We stayed there for a quick two nights before driving back to Louisville for the other Thanksgiving. It was awesome to catch up with both families, but man did we spend a lot of time in the car.

The Bad

There weren’t any crazy bills like the $3k transfer case from October, but there were a lot of smaller cuts that added up. Lucy’s food is really dang expensive because she needs an allergy free prescription diet that costs $5/day, but we’re trying to work her off that. I was also wrong last month when I thought our utility bills would end with our house – apparently, most of the bills were paid the month after!

Big cities are also just expensive to get through, like the $16 toll bridge in NYC. Actually, I think we were supposed to pay more because we were pulling Penny Lane, but when I asked the attendant how much, he said “$16” which was listed as the car fee. I waited for a second a bit confused, but then handed him the exact amount. As we pulled out, we heard and felt a “bang, bang bang” on the side of the camper and the toll booth worker was trying to get us to stop! We already had Penny Lane rolling and there was no way I’d be able to back up, so we took our chances and rolled on. Hopefully we won’t get a ticket in the mail, but I think it should be in his job requirements to look at the car coming through to verify axles!

The Ugly

The ugly this month was also some of the best. We spent four nights in NYC at an incredible location in Jersey City that easily got us to Manhattan, but it was $95/night to stay there! It was really cool because we could literally see the Statue of Liberty from our camper on one side, and then the New York skyline on the other. It was pretty magical to walk Lucy through the Liberty State Park 25 minutes from the camper, and stand on the boardwalk to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty just beyond us.

We also met up with friends in NYC and enjoyed the local cuisine, including some delicious Thai food at Uncle Boon’s and an Oklahoma State football watch party at Stillwater Bar (if you know anything about OSU, you know the significance of that). Our friends in DC actually paid for our dinner, which is nice on the budget, but always makes us feel bad because we live in a camper and people think we can’t pay for our own meals! But we definitely appreciate it and will pay it forward.

In conclusion, we pretty much knew an expensive month was coming with our east coast “big cities” trip. Hopefully, we can moderate our spending in the next few months as we head west and find cheaper places. My parents spent 5 weeks out west in October where they had $15/night campgrounds that included hook-ups, much cheaper than what we’ve experienced. We’ve enjoyed the east coast so far, but we’re excited to move west and try to bring out total spending back down.

More pics around NYC - the bottom two showing love flowing in Central Park!

More pics around NYC – the bottom two showing love flowing in Central Park!

 

Some of Jocelyn's cool pics around DC

Some of Jocelyn’s cool pics around DC

 

This was hiking in Shenandoah National Park in November... which was very cold! The bottom right picture shows the full force of the winter winds.

This was hiking in Shenandoah National Park in November… which was very cold! The bottom right picture shows the full force of the winter winds.

 

Some more of Jocelyn's pictures showing winter in Shenandoah

Some more of Jocelyn’s pictures showing winter in Shenandoah