Archives For November 2016

After all of the mountain living and quaint seashore towns, it was time to move on to the big cities. The big cities presented a major operational obstacle as we tried to figure out how we could get close enough to visit and still sleep in our camper. Just to make it fun, we started with some of the biggest and most complicated cities on the east coast: Boston and NYC.

Boston was the first big city on our list after leaving Maine. As we had discovered through the northeast, we are at the butt end of camping season and many of the RV resorts shut down between Columbus Day and the end of October… but there’s always a few remaining.

To search for campsites, we use the app “All Stays”, the most popular app in the camper world and provides lots of information on places to stay (including Wal-Marts and Cracker Barrels). The majority of Jocelyn’s time while I drive is spent searching through the app for our next stay even though it is quite inaccurate.

We found a place just outside of Boston that’s open all year and just happens to be one of the top-rated RV resorts in the world… at least according to them (Normandy Farms). We’ve always been somewhat against these fancy places with the “campers” who have a satellite dish and a big screen T.V. However, we quickly jumped on the bandwagon after we spent some time in their indoor pool and hot tub! It even included a dog park, baseball fields and a recreational lodge and provided a nice break from roughing it the previous month. I guess we’re glampers now.

The train station was close, so we hopped on and explored Boston for the day. We stuck to the main tourist track, the Freedom Trail, as we explored the city and the uprising of the pesky American colonists (said with a British accent). It was pretty clear to Britain and France from the beginning that North America was going to turn into a huge opportunity, and both of them tried their best to strategically command it. In the end, it just became too powerful too quickly and (we) were able to break away from the competing empires.

Between Boston and NYC we spent a weekend in Rhode Island where we took up another offer to stay with a friend (be careful what you offer to us, we might just take you up on it!). We stayed with one of my former bosses and mentors from Accenture for two days as he toured us around the smallest but significant state of Rhode Island. We loved Newport and touring the mansions of industrial titans who competed for the most impressive estate (Vanderbilt won).

After Rhode Island, we stayed a free night at a casino in Connecticut where we once again lost more in gambling than we saved by staying for “free”. It did give us a chance to explore Connecticut which we wouldn’t have done otherwise and from what we saw, it’s another beautiful state with rolling hills/mountains and picturesque waterside towns.

Next, it was on to New York City. As we headed to our first destination on Long Island, we headed down one of the major highways but didn’t take the “passenger cars only” sign serious enough as we drove Penny Lane through traffic… after all, we were driving a passenger car! However, things got pretty serious when we started seeing the “low clearance” signs on the upcoming bridges and did a quick visual assessment before moving to the middle lane where the bridge was higher. Cleared it. As we drove farther, the situation became more dire as the bridges got shorter (seriously people, when were these built?!). We “decided” to exit after two cars honked and motioned to exit before the next bridge – something about the panic on their faces told me Penny Lane was about to get a haircut… but luckily we got off the highway before we tested it.

We spent two nights on Long Island and headed out to the Hamptons for one of the days. First off, we didn’t know Long Island was so long (name should’ve given it away) and secondly, it was fun to visit the Hamptons and see the newer location of “who can build the biggest mansion”.

Now, it was off to the Big Apple – New York City. Jocelyn found a RV park with “views of the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty”. To get there, we had to drive from Long Island, through Brooklyn and on to Jersey City. Once again, we ran into the short bridge issue. This meant I got to drive Penny Lane through Brooklyn. Need I say more… okay, sure, I aim to entertain. Imagine driving through New York City streets with crazy cab drivers, pedestrians everywhere and confusing streets. Now think about me trying to do it with a 20ft camper on the back.. and add in some rain!! I reverted to my Dallas driving – very aggressive – as I quickly darted from lane to lane to avoid getting stuck behind a turning car or missing my own turn. I think Jocelyn got to the point of closing her eyes, but she did a good job of guiding me through! It was pretty dang crazy and hopefully the hardest of my driving (until I get to the mountains at least).

This is what driving through Brooklyn with a camper looks like!!

This is what driving through Brooklyn with a camper looks like!!

Oh yea, and the RV resort did actually have views of the Jersey skyline and the Statue of Liberty! It was so cool to walk Lucy over to Liberty State Park with great views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Sure it was twice as expensive of any place we had previously stayed at $90/night, but it was five blocks from the metro station and a quick ride to Manhattan! We spent four nights – even though it broke the bank – just because the location was incredible and obviously there’s so much to see in NYC. The majority of our time was spent sight seeiing the most famous and touristy sites and we were able to catch up with some friends as well.

Although challenging with the logistics, I’m glad we still made it to the big East Coast cities. It gave us a chance to explore without spending big bucks on a “regular vacation” where we’d stay in hotels and eat at restaurants all of the time… instead we slept in Penny Lane and brought sandwiches whenever possible!

Through Martha's Vineyard and Boston

Through Martha’s Vineyard and Boston

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Some of Jocelyn’s great pictures in Central Park – NYC

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More pictures throughout NYC

Much like I did during our around the world trip, I plan to capture our spending details for our Great American Road Trip. Instead of tracking by country like I did before, I’ll track by month with similar categories:

– Lodging: spending on nightly camping/resort fees
– Restaurants: spending on “going out to eat”
– Food/Goods: spending on grocery store food, goods and supplies
– Gas: I think I’m most afraid of this category!
– Regular Bills: Monthly bills

Let’s start with October. It wasn’t pretty. Actually… it was reallll ugly! I’ll do a quick assessment of our overall spending and then remove the “not normal” items that will hopefully disappear from future reports.

Total October Spending: $8,629.38

Just brutal. If we keep up spending at that pace, we’ll have to come home tomorrow… or actually last week. The biggest unexpected expenses came from our rough week in Kentucky when our car broke down ($3,842.30 for repair & rental car) and Lucy required minor surgery ($308.09). Additionally, we had some higher than expected housing costs as we worked to get our house leased.

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Now, let’s get to the actual camping expenditures. I’ll try to keep this format similar throughout the upcoming months and match the format I used when we traveled the world.

Total days in the camper: 24
Total days out of camper: 7, stayed with family
Total (normal) costs: $4,374
Cost per day: $141.1
States Visited: Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine
Total Miles: 2,853

Summary

We expected the first month of travel to be the most difficult as we figured out living in a small camper with two people and a large dog. Although it might sound like a dream to quit your job and travel the country with no set schedule, it’s actually quite stressful. When you add in some early complexities like our car breaking down and Lucy getting sick, it made it even more stressful!

We hoped to be fully out on the road as October started, but hope means nothing for reality. We got started late as we worked through the sale vs lease of our house, but then we had a major one week delay with the 4Runner breakdown. We got it fixed and headed out about a week late into the beginning of October and drove a lot to make up lost time. We spent only a day or two in each state as we raced to get up to the northeast to catch the fall foliage, but then we slowed down when we got there.

Spending Details

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The Good

The positive side of our car breaking down in Kentucky was that we were already staying with family! Luckily, they didn’t charge us nightly even though our camper “storage” was against their HOA rules, so our campsite fees were much lower at $18.7 per day than what we’ll usually encounter. The average camp site per night that we actually paid was more around $30-$35 per day.

I expected our gas expense to be much higher as well, but the one idle week in Kentucky along with slowing down in the northeast helped bring the average down to $17.9 per day. Also, it helps big time that gas is half the price of its peak a few years ago. Food expenses were okay, but goods were on the high side as we bought a lot of supplies for the camper.

 

The Bad

Our first month expenses were hopefully the highest we’ll encounter because of a lot of “one-time” expenses. This included simple things like a “Mr. Buddy” propane heater which keeps us warm at night, kitchen utensils and car supplies. It was hard to know everything we’d need until we actually hit the road.

We also had a lot of extra bills from our house, which shot our “regular bills” total much higher than we expect in the future. We did get our house leased towards the end of October, so our regular house utility bills will disappear soon. Next month our regular bills will only be cell phone, insurance and health care which will help… but health care will probably go up so maybe not!

The Ugly

You’re probably tired of hearing about it, but the ugly was definitely the 4Runner. If you’ve been around for a while, you know I think new cars and payments will stop most people from ever becoming rich, but a reliable car is also a necessity! We went into our trip with 190k+ miles already in the 4Runner and previous issues with the transfer case, but it’s also a Toyota. Toyota’s can get 300k miles… I keep telling myself.

So a week in the transfer case went out, and it’s not a cheap fix. We’re at least 2k miles into the new transfer case and the 4Runner seems healthy again, so hopefully the repair bill was an investment that will pay off.

In conclusion, our $141.1 per day is too high for our trip to remain sustainable, but hopefully it was mostly driven up by one time expenses. We hope to get our spending down to $100/day as we get this new life figured out. We’ve had some incredible experiences so far and we’re doing a good job of staying cost-conscious without letting total frugality ruin the trip.

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After trekking through the Presidential Range in New Hampshire and getting pushed on by the cold weather, our next destination was Maine. Maine was an easy target from the beginning since it’s the most northeastern state in the US and it also has the only National Park in the northeast – Acadia National Park.

How do you picture Maine? Quaint oceanside towns? Lighthouses perched on cliffs over the sea? Mountains? Moose? We saw them all, except the dang moose! There were signs every few miles for moose crossings, but apparently the moose didn’t know to use the signs.

But we did see lobsters, and lots of them. The coast of Maine is scattered with “Lobster Pounds” – little restaurants on the side of the road with picnic tables out front designed around eating lobster. They’re a main attraction in the warmer months as tourists and locals flock to them for cheap and delicious lobster. However, most of them close around Columbus day as traffic dies down and the lively tourist towns get sleepy. We turned to the more traditional restaurants instead in places like Bar Harbor that were still serving their staple crop.

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Bar Harbor is a great little seaside town that reminded us of some of the places we visited in New Zealand. The main streets are filled with restaurants and shops for the many tourists to pick up their souvenirs, but there’s enough local charm to keep it authentic… but it could all change in the summer when the cruise ships arrive. Like most of our trip to the northeast, we’ve traveled in the off-season so I’m sure it’d be a lot different in the summer.

The off-season also proved to be a good time to visit Acadia. Travel forums are filled with tails of impossible parking and lines of tourist throughout Maine, but we didn’t experience any of it. We stayed in Acadia for five days which gave us plenty of time to explore the many peaks and shorelines of the park. The mountains don’t sound very intimidating at only 600-800 feet above sea level, but starting at zero makes their steep accents much more challenging. They also have some really exciting hikes like “Bee Hive” where you cling to the side of the mountain holding on to the iron rungs.

The trade-off of off-season travel is of course, the weather. The weather that motivated us to leave New Hampshire was also in Maine. That meant rainy and chilly days combined with cold nights. We wore heavy coats for the hikes, but the humid cold still gets to you. But somehow, it just felt right. Bundled up while walking through the quaint little towns and chattering teeth while visiting the seaside lighthouses, it felt genuinely Maine.

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One of the most picturesque lighthouses in all of Maine – the Portland Head lighthouse in Portland, ME

 

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Hiking with Jocelyn and Lucy in Acadia National Park

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Rainy and foggy conditions in Acadia – we got to deal with it much more than we wanted to!

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