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