Archives For BREAK FREE

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

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!

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

Washington D.C. has always been high on my list of places to visit, but for whatever reason, I had yet to make it. Maybe it’s because I always wanted to make the first time “special” and attend during the cherry blossom festival, or maybe it was just destined to be one of those places I never visited. But that all changed with this road trip.

After New York City, we drove Penny Lane south into the Beltway of Washington D.C. and parked it in the National Beltway campground at $16/night. Jocelyn scored big time with this find because it’s only 12 miles from D.C. and it’s really cheap!! It was a nice reprieve after paying over $90/night in NYC.

It also made a great base to explore D.C. and the surrounding area. We arrived on Sunday and rested for the day before a very busy week ahead. Actually, we hiked with Lucy first because we knew she would have a lot of “camper time” in the upcoming week as we explored the city. That’s the tough part of city exploring – leaving her in the camper.

Monday morning started and we were off to D.C as we took the train to the National Mall. I was excited to see all of the federal buildings surrounding the epicenter of our country’s rich history. You look down one side and see the Capitol, as your eyes circle to the other side, you see the massive Smithsonian museums which enshrine some of America’s and the world’s most important possessions, and then you see the Washington Memorial on the other side.

Jocelyn let me have the first pick of museums as it was my first time, so we headed through the National Mall to the Museum of the American Indian. As you’ll see as we head west, I have a healthy obsession with the Native American culture and love to read about it, so it was an easy first pick. The museum is the closet museum to the Capitol… one of the few times Native Americans have received the prime land.

There were three floors that portrayed various stories of American Indians – from the Incas in South America to the Intuits in Alaska. We started at a photo exhibit on the second floor from a Kiowa in Oklahoma named Horace Poolaw. Poolaw started taking pictures in the late 1920’s and wanted them to have the same quality as the Time Life photos, although he had very little money. His goal was to show the way Native Americans really lived, somewhat sandwiched between their traditional way of life and the encroaching modern way of life, unlike the other photographers of the time who only wanted them to dress up in their traditional wears because that’s what people romanticized. Like many artists, Poolaw died relatively unknown and poor, only later to have his incredible work become known.

The top picture is of the National Museum of the American Indian, the bottom pic is by Horace Poolaw

The top picture is of the National Museum of the American Indian, the bottom pic is by Horace Poolaw

We went on to tour the third floor which had 6-8 different exhibits of different tribes in the Americas. It explained some of their traditions and way of life along with a few artifacts or pieces of clothes. The other exhibit got a little more into how their way of life changed after the arrival of the Europeans and touched some specific examples of broken treaties and stolen lands.

While I was excited to visit the museum, I left feeling a little disappointed. Maybe it was because I had it built up in my own mind, or because I’ve read quite a bit on Native Americans, but I feel like they’ve missed out on a lot with the museum. It was a little too vanilla as they attempted to cover too many tribes without really bringing any to life. I didn’t feel there was much pride to be felt if you were a Native American touring the exhibit… nothing on the great war leaders Crazy Horse or Geronimo and their honorable way of living, no major historic pieces, and no major effort to catalog the genocide that occurred.

As the sun was setting, we walked down the mall towards the Washington Memorial to enjoy a beautiful sunset. It was a good time to reflect on the true history of the United States and the land we occupied, but also to be very amazed and proud of the Republic that was built. This day was a perfect lead in to what was coming next – a tour of Mt. Vernon.

I’ve mentioned that you should be careful on what you offer because someone might just take you up on it… and our Mt. Vernon experience was made because of one of these kind offers. A former co-worker previously mentioned that her mom was the Curator of the Mt. Vernon estate and that she could give us a private tour. So as we approached D.C., you better believe I took her up on that!

We arrived and toured the grounds before our 1pm private tour. The museum does a great job of being honest with the fact that while Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate was magnificent, it wouldn’t have been possible without the 300+ slaves who were forced to work there. As we walked up to the house there were numerous guides directing us to the line where the tours started, until we politely told them we were touring with Susan (my friend’s mom). Once they heard that, they treated us like royalty so we knew we scored! Susan arrived shortly after and toured us through the house, including the basement and the upstairs. They strive for historical accuracy and it was amazing to see the lengths they go to make it happen. In one room they found a small scrap of wallpaper behind the mantle that they traced through the original order to the French manufacturer who originally made it. The company found it in their archives and made some more just for the house! We felt very fortunate to receive our private tour and we were amazed with Susan’s knowledge.

As for General Washington, in my mind, he doesn’t get as much credit for the founding of our country as he deserves. Not only because he won us the war of Independence with his bravery and strategy, but also because he knew when to step down and let the Democratic Republic take shape. One story said his troops offered to march into Philadelphia which housed the Continental Congress and overthrow them to make Washington the King. He objected and saved the Republic.

Our remaining three days were spent touring D.C., and it turns out that wasn’t nearly enough time! By the end, we were quickly rushing into museums to make sure we saw the “biggest pieces” before heading out. While I enjoyed all of the museums, I thought the National Archives were quite special because they house the original Constitution and Bill of Rights. Jocelyn really enjoyed the “Newseum” which is just that – the news museum. We spent our final night dining out with friends and hearing about their experiences with the city. While being a tourist is fun, I feel the experience is never complete until you see the city through the eyes of a local.

The bottom picture is from the Berlin Wall exhibit in the Newseum; top pictures are from various other museums

The bottom picture is from the Berlin Wall exhibit in the Newseum; top pictures are from various other museums

Mt. Vernon pictures

Mt. Vernon pictures

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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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central-park

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

october-spending-report

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.

dan-lobster-maine

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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