Archives For BREAK FREE

I’m three years delayed in posting this because I was debating if I want to expose this data… although if you really wanted to know how much we spent on our around the world trip, you could’ve just added up the expenses from each country spending report! However, I came across the data again and thought it would be helpful to post for others who are considering a similar trip.

In 2013, my wife and I went on a round the world trip of our dreams where we rode elephants in Laos, visited the incredible ruins of Angkor Wat, camper vanned in New Zealand for a month, experienced the Northern Lights and did many other things we never thought we’d have the fortune to do. In 250 days we traveled across 5 continents, 25 countries and took over 52 flights.

We’re more “explorers” than “beach bums”. We had a long list of places we wanted to see with limited time, so instead of lying on a beach for two months in Thailand (which would’ve been very cheap), we averaged a new city every 2-3 days and a new country every ten days. We moved pretty fast, but we did have a few extended stays in countries to catch our breath.

That’s one major thing to consider if you’re using this information to determine if you can afford to take a similar trip. Many people do year-long backpacking trips on a much smaller budget than ours by focusing only on a few countries or areas. But if you want to see the entire world in 250 days with two people, it might look something like this. Just like I do with all of my spending summaries, lets get into the numbers.

Total Trip Cost: $56,096
Cost per day: $224
Total days on the road: 250
Travel stats: 5 continents, 25 countries, 52+ flights

Summary

My wife and I both had dreams of traveling the world, but they always seemed similar to my dreams of becoming a professional baseball player as a kid – something that sounded cool but that I wasn’t willing to put the time in to make happen! However, when her work contract was coming to an end in 2012, and I was becoming restless at work, we fell into a dangerous spiral of not calling each other’s bluff as we started ‘planning’ our trip. “Want to travel the world? Sure! Should we just quit our jobs? I’m fine with it! Then I’ll book the first flight. Sounds good to me!”

Neither of us wanted to be the reason it didn’t happen, so our trip started taking form. I researched and realized we needed at least six months to get all of our vaccinations and plans in order. Luckily, I was granted a one year unpaid leave at work which lessened the stress considerably since I had a job to come back to, and then we sold our house in New Orleans which took less than a week to go under contract. This was actually going to happen.

The trips plans started with an “okay, where do you want to go?” where Jocelyn named many countries that sounded like they were on terrorist watch lists or you only hear about when the bird flu breaks out, but it was good logic since we wanted to go now before we had kids. We decided to go west to east and booked our first one-way ticket to New Zealand, with a nice ten day layover in French Polynesia! From there, we figured it out as we went and made changes as we talked to other travelers who filled us in on must visit destinations.

It was a lot of money to spend, especially for a money guy like myself who knows how bigly it could be in twenty years when invested right, but we made the decision to do it because we also knew we would probably have many more limitations in twenty years and this might be our only shot until we’re 80. So we committed, and luckily, we were able to pay for the entire trip with the profit we earned from renovating and then selling our New Orleans house. Let’s get into the details.

Spending Details

The Good

The “best good” was that we took the trip. We didn’t leave it as one of those things we ‘want to do someday’ that never happens. As a few years have passed since we returned home, I’ve forgotten some of the memories along the way, but I’ve also continued to gain from the perspective we received from the trip. We realized how lucky we were to win the birth lottery. Instead of born into a slum in the developing world where our best hope would be good health, we were born into a world of privilege and opportunity. We were born into one of the most powerful countries in the world where other people would sacrifice their own life just to give their family a chance to live there.

We also realized how lucky we were to have each other. When we came back to our jobs after traveling, we saw our incredible fondness for each other fade as career and life demands stacked up. I explained it to a friend that I never had before understood how old couples could be so in love with each other, but the trip taught me how. I could count on one hand the number of times I was apart from Jocelyn for more than one hour, and neither of us liked being apart (for too long). It’s like we had squeezed decades of life into a single year. We depended on each other so much, sometimes for survival, and we were able to see the incredible strengths of each other. When I was very sick with food poisoning for a few weeks in SE Asia, it was Jocelyn who took the trip planning over and took care of me. When the taxi mafia in Jordan tried to rip us off and I firmly stood up to them, it was her who had my back and helped us get our (cheaper) ride.

And the things we saw. From some of the world’s most incredible archaeological sites like Petra, Angkor Wat, Bagan or even Jerusalem, to the stunning natural vistas in New Zealand, Nepal, Turkey or Iceland (and of course, the Northern Lights). We saw one of the richest areas in the world in New Delhi, India with slums just adjacent. We gained perspective from a non-centric US view, like the “Museum of American Atrocities” in Vietnam and learning facts like we bombed the hell out of Cambodia and Laos at the same time as the Vietnam war, making Laos the most bombed country per capita (although a new country might have taken that honor by now).

And the people we met. People living the simplest lives in Myanmar, barely getting by on what they could pluck from the land and wheeling barrels of water from charity-sponsored wells back to their shacks. Or one of our scariest times when we took the public bus in Jordan and thought we might die, but instead found one of the nicest people of the trip who talked with us for over an hour as we both laughed and bonded over no common language, but instead one we had to decipher from each other. Or the hotel manager in Siem Reap who practiced English every day on the computer while fully committed to his job, but leaving his three year old girl at home alone because they couldn’t afford a babysitter.

From an expense perspective, it was pretty interesting to take a look a few years later. The most surprising low expenses to me are for lodging and food. It’s pretty amazing we only spent a combined $30 per day on food, but that ranged from a less than a dollar for Pad Thai in Bangkok to over $30 for the cheapest lunch we could find in the UK. The food in SE Asia is cheap, but also some of the most incredible food we’ve ever had. It blew me away that each country has a fairly unique flavor developed through mixed cultures (like the French-inspired Vietnamese food) and availability of ingredients. Their use of herbs was delicious and amazing.

We typically stayed in a range of properties from lower end hotels to nice hotels thanks to my Starwood hotel points. At first, we thought we’d stay in hostels the whole time to keep costs down, but after seeing the price for two people and the conditions of some of them, we opted to stay in hotels instead. We didn’t want to be those dirty backpackers wearing hammer pants* and growing out trustafarian dredlocks. It is amazing how far $25/night can go in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, with beautiful hotels nicely appointed with plush pillows and soaking tubs. We stayed around 50 free nights at Starwood properties around the world thanks to hotel points, which usually included free breakfast (thanks to my hotel status) and oftentimes a lounge for evening drinks and dinner.

The experiences and our perspective change will last a lifetime, and will continue to define our future. If not for that trip, we probably wouldn’t be on the road today on another one year sabbatical, and there’s no telling what wouldn’t have happened in the future.

The Bad

Entitled citizens from the US have earned a negative reputation across the world for decades, and we experienced our fair share of bombastic party-goers ruining pristine beaches in Moorea and dirty American backpackers supporting the drug culture in Vang Vieng, Laos. However, we also learned there are other countries who also complete for the most annoying travelers! Whether it be the Chinese whose new found wealth have allowed them to travel the world in swarms of tour buses while they disregard cultural sensitives like climbing Uluru, or the Australians who treat the beaches of Bali like Texans and Floridians treat Cancun (I can say that because I’m a Texan). But who knows, locals probably frowned on us a number of times as well**.

From an expense perspective, the bad comes with our total spending on flights, over $16,000! However, when you begin to break the number down, it’s not so bad. We took over 50 flights (so 100 total) which makes the total cost per flight $160. That includes major one-way flights like LA to Auckland, Beijing to Vienna and London to the US (with a stopover in Iceland). I spent a lot of time researching around the world flights, but most of them only included 10-15 legs, which would’ve meant we’d paying for another ~30 flights on our own… and their price wasn’t much cheaper than our overall amount! Flights in Australia and SE Asia were very cheap, even when booking only a few days in advance.

The flights also saved us a lot of time. Although my favorite phrase was, “we have more time than money”, we still took shortcuts when the price was right, like a 3 hour flight to Kathumandu, instead of an 18 hour bus ride that would be quite dangerous.

If we would’ve slowed down and visited fewer cities, we probably could’ve cut the costs in half. However, the big one-way flights which you’ll want to take (unless you want to ride on a cargo ship for three months across the Pacific) account for the biggest chunks of cost. In fact, the three big one-way flights listed above were $4,418 just by themselves. You’ll have to spend some money to do these big trips, the key is to be smart with your budget and know where you can make trade-offs.

The “Travel Admin” category is also quite scary at over $5,000. This category includes things like immunizations, clothing and supplies for the trip, visas and a few medical expenses along the way. We only got two visas in advance, India and China, as they required quite a bit more paperwork, but the rest of the visas were fairly easy to obtain in advance or on arrival (but that was three years ago, no telling how it’s all changing now with our present happenings).

The Ugly

While it’s tempting to add food poisoning as an ugly, I’m reluctant because that’s just a thing that often comes along with travel***. I could also talk about how we got scammed numerous times, but that also comes along with the travel! We never got robbed, never experienced acts of violence or even much rudeness and the scams were all for pretty small amounts. I call that a win.

However, there was one ugly that bit us a few times… currency exchanges. While traveling Australia and New Zealand, their currency was at one of the highest rates ever against the US dollar, so their already expensive countries stung even more. We tried to keep our daily costs down by cooking our own food – I even once smuggled a steak dinner I cooked in the camper, into the hotel. However, the big items like flights, camper van rentals and fuel really added up.

Our biggest ugly came in Australia when we rented a camper van for two weeks. They charged a $5,000 deposit which is just ridiculous, but then they took over six weeks to refund it. That gesture was crappy enough, but what made it even worse was there was a major change in currency valuation over those two weeks which meant we got over $500 fewer dollars back than the original $5k charge! It was very messed up and we even wrote a post on it where many others have joined in their hate for Appollo camper vans in Australia (I’d recommend not using them).

We also had some crazy experience like the taxi mafia above, we were nearly denied boarding because we didn’t have proof of onward travel when leaving Australia (although I lied our way out of it), and we (mostly me) had some really nasty bouts of food poisoning which explains why I seem to have lost half myself through SE Asia. Come to think of it, we probably shouldn’t have gone in the cage and sat with the adult tigers.

 

But the uglies just weren’t that ugly and the scaries weren’t that scary. I just read Orwell’s 1984 and he wrote, “If he were allowed contact with foreigners he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself…”. That’s one of the biggest takeaways. Places like Vietnam, Myanmar, Jordan and Morocco sound scary for a Westerner. They sound scary because our government and media make them sound scary – sometimes purposefully and sometimes not. But in the end, they’re made up of people who have hopes and ambitions like the rest of us, who favor peace over war, who want their kids to experience a better life and who love to smile and laugh.

In fact, that’s the same thing we’re learning on our current trip. I’m writing this from an Oregon State Park that obviously has quite a few people living in their campers or cars full-time. Not the people who have the super-cool Instagram accounts and are doing this to experience freedom, but the people who are down on their luck. Their old beat up cars and worn clothes give them a dark appearance and my instant reaction is to ignore them and hope they’ll do the same for me, just as I would’ve done with someone begging for money. But when we’re allowed contact and discover the truth, we realize they’re just like us. They have hopes and dreams for themselves, ambition to make their kids’ lives better than their own and they don’t plan to be living in a camper forever. They’re just like us.

 

*Technically, they’re not hammer pants, but they look like it. They’re found all over SE Asia, but mostly in Thailand where young backpackers make them their choice outfit. They’re just a step above sweatpants. We did buy a couple of pair but mostly wore them where they should be worn – indoors (like sweatpants)
**While in Laos, I learned how to say hello – “Sabadee”. From then on, I’d always excitedly greet locals who seemed to appreciate it… but they might have also hated it
***Although food poisoning hitting when you’re on a small boat on Inle Lake in the middle of rural Myanmar, with the next stop being a “Bermese cat house” where you get to play with ~30 cats who are mostly just staring at you should shouldn’t be on your bucket list

 

Petra… absolutely incredible

We saw the Northern Lights on the second to last night of our trip!!

Tigers in Thailand

A Burmese lady smoking a handmade cigarette in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

How would you react if a King Cobra came out of a basket? I think Jocelyn handled it pretty well!

Sunset over Bagan, Myanmar. There are over 4,000 temples dotted across the desert landscape.

The Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand

The Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

Believe it or not, this castle was actually built in the middle of the lake in India!

Our best pose at the Taj Mahal… our tour guide insisted we take a “romantic” picture

Kids playing in Inle Lake, Myanmar… this is when my stomach started rumbling…

We learned a lot of patience on the trip… with so many delays, canceled flights and detoured routes.

Monks laughing in Myanmar

As I’m writing this, I’m looking through the window of our vintage Airstream trailer and onto the beautiful black sandy beaches of the Lost Coast in Northern California. The foggy mountains provide an incredible backdrop as the waves continually pound the coast. I keep thinking we never could’ve done all of this if not for the sacrifices and hard work over the last ten years. This is how I went from $50,000 in debt, to us having enough money to do this. I’ll share these steps with you, so you can do the same.

Here are the six basic steps:

  1. Complete a current assessment
  2. Track your spending
  3. Create a spending plan
  4. Monitor plan and adjust as necessary
  5. Save some money
  6. Attack your debt

1. Complete a current assessment

The first thing you need to do is complete a current assessment, which is nothing more than a quick balance sheet to see where you stand with your assets and liabilities. To do this, gather all financial documents relating to debt (mortgage statements, credit card, student loan, personal loans, etc.) which should include amount owed, interest rates, and minimum payments. Take a look at my example current assessment and begin filling it in with your information.

1.  Fill out the liabilities section of your current assessment with all debts including short term and long term (mortgage)
2.  Fill out the assets section.  List out the money in bank accounts, stock accounts, and retirement accounts

Update the spreadsheet to include all of your short term assets and liabilities for now, so you can see where you stand. After you do this, you can also read how to track your net worth and fill out the long term section as well.

2.  Track your spending

Can you tell me how much you spent on groceries last week? How much did you spend on going out to eat or little luxuries like Starbucks? If you’re anything like me, this step will be incredibly enlightening because you’ll be surprised to see where the dollars are going.

There are a few different ways to track your spending. When I went through this step, I downloaded credit cards statements from the previous two years, categorized each item in a spreadsheet and totaled them up. This gave me a good idea of what was happening with my money, and it wasn’t pretty.

The scary part was that in 2005 which was the first year I went back and calculated my spending, I was making $45,000 a year, which equals $2,561 per month. However,I was spending $2,588 per month which meant I was in the hole by $17 every month… but actually it was much larger than that when accounting for all of the taxes, insurance, etc taken out of my check! I was obviously financing a lot of my living with debt.

There are a few ways to track your spending:

1. Old School: write down every expense on a notebook and carry it around with you each day. You can then add these up manually or into a spreadsheet. Keep each item under a general “category” and try to limit to 6-8 categories total. 

2. Automate: use a site like mint.com which links all of your credit cards and will create a nice history for you

Most credit card websites will also have information categorized, but it’s a little harder as you can’t get them all in once place. Here’s an easy spreadsheet to use a tracker, you can print it off or use it in Excel/Google Sheets Spending Tracker.

If you’re serious about getting your financial act together, don’t skip this step. Most people will think they have a good handle on their spending, but after this step they’ll realize they’re spending like a drunk on Bourbon Street*.

3.  Create a spending plan (Budget)

Now, you must tell your money where to go (like you might already want to tell me where to go). You have to control where your money is spent and this happens through a budget, and not one of those “I’ll do it in my head” budgets.

The key is to keep it simple and not try to have a 100 line item budget, that’s doomed to fail. Take your biggest categories of spending that can fluctuate (clothes, groceries, going out to eat, etc) and create a goal for the amount you want to spend each month. Use your previous month totals from step 2 as a guide to set your total monthly amounts. Here are some sweet examples of budgets:

If you’re really serious about doing this, here’s a pro tip: cash budget, baby. This is the most effective way to stick to your spending plan because there’s nothing that makes your spending more real than pulling out a $100 bill every time you got to Wal-mart or go out to eat. You’ll experience the psychological impact as you see Benjamin leaving your pocket and paying for Chili’s two for two with too many margaritas, and it will start to change how you spend your money.

Check out the full details here on how to use the cash budget, but we literally went to the bank each month, pulled out $1,200 in cash, stuffed four envelopes, and then spent from them. If you weren’t watching your spending closely before, I can almost guarantee by doing this, you’ll quickly find an extra 20% of your dollars back in your wallet. These were our envelopes:

  1. Entertainment ($400)
  2. Food ($600)
  3. Clothes ($100)
  4. Lucy/pet spending ($100)

As you can see, it doesn’t include all of our expenses because some are too convenient (who wants to pay for gas with cash) and others aren’t as easy to constrain (utilities). This was also a few years old and our numbers have changed since then… based on our latest monthly spending report while traveling, we’re over $800/month for food.

4.  Monitor plan and adjust as necessary

Now that you’ve created your spending plan, you need to track against it as the month goes on. As I mentioned in step #3, you may be surprised about how much you are spending on certain areas, so see what happens now that you’re tracking it. Feel free to move your numbers up or down in certain areas as the months progress. Use the same tracking methods mentioned in step 2.

Now, for one of the most important parts… don’t give up! If you do, you’ll be in the same position that you were in before. Use the knowledge you have gained from analyzing your spending and spending plan and keep the momentum going. This needs to be a change in the way you live, not a temporary diet in your spending.

5.  Save some money

At this point, you should have a good idea of where your money is going and how much you have to save. You’ll inevitably have some crazy thing happen right as you start making progress, so you’ll want to quickly build up an emergency fund so you don’t have to use your credit cards. Let’s see… some of my fun ones over the years have included a towed car, minor wreck, sick dog, ruptured achillles tendon and lots of fun house repairs.

Let’s start with two main savings tips:

A.  Create an emergency fund

The minimum amount you need to save is $1,000 to cover unexpected expense like the ones I mentioned above. If you already have this money in savings or you’ve now saved it, it’s time to move on to the big savings fund. You need to build up your emergency fund to 3-6 months of expenses so you can cover major issues like the loss of a job or a major injury. You should keep this money in liquid assets like savings accounts where you can quickly access the money. Now that you know your complete budget from step three, you should know the amount you need to save.

There are two main obstacles for most people on this step. The first, is you’d rather pay off debt. I agree that’s important, so you can always do both simultaneously, but I’d try for at least three months of spending saved before you go full on debt. The other obstacle is for nerds like me who’d rather invest it. This money is your security blanket or your “tell your boss off” fund. Keep it in a place where a major market correction won’t hurt it…. because your boss could become unbearable at any minute!

B.  Pay yourself first

Another important part of building your savings is to pay yourself first. It’s tempting to “save what you have at the end of the month”, but more times than not, you’ll find not a lot of money at the end of the month. If instead, you put money into savings before the month starts, you’ll be amazed at how you get by without it.

Setup an automatic withdrawal through your bank and time it so it happens a few days after you get your paycheck. Just like you’re hopefully doing with your retirement accounts, the money will get pulled before you even had your spendy little Donald Trump hands on it.

6.  Attack your debt

Debt is one of our biggest obstacles to freedom, and there’s a lot of people who profit off of you being in debt. It’s time to cut that, time to kill all of your debt so you’re working for you and not for GM auto financing. I hate debt – especially short term debt. The only debt I plan to ever have in my life is a mortgage debt, but I’d like to even get that knocked out soon. My distaste for debt came from back when graduated college and within a year of working, I was already $50k in debt and had a stupid car loan** which I’ve since vowed to never have again.

Now that you’ve followed the previous five steps, you know where your money is going, how much you have to spend, you’ve saved up some emergency funds and now it’s time to kill the debt.

There are many plans that give you the steps to pay off your debts but my favorite is Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, and it’s the plan I used to pay off my debt. He has a method called the “debt snowball” where you list all of your debts from smallest to largest on a piece of paper. You can even right this on a poster board you attach to your refrigerator so you know every day what you’re fighting.

Start with the smallest debt on the top of the list and pay only your minimums on the rest of the of the debts. Attack that smallest debt with the rest of your money until it’s paid off. Mark it off the list and do a happy dance. Now, it’s time to attack debt number two – this time using the extra money you were paying off the first debt with — thus, creating the snowball! This really does work and there’s a lot of psychological benefits for doing it this way versus going after the highest interest accounts first. Check out this great template from Kyle to track your debt snowball.

This is how you start to take control of your life, so you can call the shots. You need to have complete control of your money, and you need to be on the same page with your spouse if you’re married. If both of you aren’t bought in on this plan, there’s a high likelihood that it won’t work.

Next, we’ll talk about working smart to maximize your income and also get into investing. If you’ve made it this far, you must be serious about taking control of your money! Seriously, I think I was going for a record long post!!

 

*Incidentally, I had that problem on Bourbon street once and only realized the next few days how much I spent as the credit card charges kept coming

**One of my controversial and popular posts is the 20% rule for buying a car, if you have about three days, you should read through the comments as they’re quite entertaining.

 

The Untangling

April 5, 2017 — 2 Comments

We are the profiles we’ve created for ourselves with the help of outside influencers, but what happens when we either voluntarily or forcefully remove our profiles and no longer are the person who we thought we had become? How do we untangle everything that came previously and created our profile?

I’ve been actively exploring this question since I left my fancy corporate job last May. The first few weeks felt like nothing more than a vacation, with the feeling that email piles and conference calls would soon start up again. It actually took a few months to get untangled from the regimented work schedule where the rhythms of one work week often mirrored the next. Post-job, I no longer had a schedule or work plan dictating where I needed to be and what I needed to be doing. It was up to me.

It was easy to keep my mind occupied at this time because we were trying to finish the Airstream renovation and prepare our house for sale and/or lease. I thought about work now and again, but it was quickly fading into the past. My mind had pretty successfully become untangled from the knot that had formed over the two previous years.

The next untangling came when I had to figure out what I am now. I’m no longer a consultant, no longer corporate management, and I’m no longer in the high tech world. From some perspectives, I lost the identity I spent the last ten years creating.

Recently, I updated my Linked In profile to say “Explorer”. I was a little nervous doing so because it was such a far leap from what was there before. However, the title felt suitable because that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re exploring life on the open road as we take our Airstream across the US and Canada. We’re exploring different ways of living as we meet new people and hear their stories. We’re exploring our future and what we want to do with our lives.

I think untangling is a healthy process and biologically we have a deep need to do it. It happens automatically at night when we burn off the memories of the day which we sometimes remember as dreams. We also assist our natural untangling more purposely through meditation, yoga, running and other activities. Some religions or ways of life like Buddhism teach untangling as a very important exercise for our minds.

When I was in college, I was a co-director for Camp Cowboy, which was a freshman orientation camp to help students get ready for college life. My co-director and friend, Doug, had the idea to have each of the freshman write down what they were, or their “profile”, in high school. He then instructed them to throw it in the fire because they were leaving high school and the profiles/stereotypes that came with it (good or bad) and starting anew. Maybe it should be as simple as that.

Maybe in addition to an Explorer, I’m now an entrepreneur. As I learned in consulting, sometimes you just have to fake it until you make it.

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.

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