Archives For Spending Summary

July was it. Our last full month to travel as our renters were due out at the end of the month. We raced up to Alaska in June so we could get at least of one month of exploring before heading back. We estimated two weeks of heavy driving to get all the way through Alaska, Canada much of the US and back to Texas. This left us with approximately ten days to further explore Alaska. We decided to spend it in some of the biggest Alaskan highlights – Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks. Then, it was back towards the real world (maybe)*.

Total June Cost: $4,316
Total days in the camper: 30
Total days out of camper: 0
Cost per day: $139
States Visited: Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma
Total Miles: Approx 6,100

Summary

There were a lot of “Wow’s” in July. From one of our new favorite National Parks (Denali), to the huge amount of miles covered (over 6,000) and one of the highest spending months since we started traveling. It was a purposeful stalling in Alaska while the weather was good that caused most of it, but the inevitable can only be delayed so long, and we had to head back south. Emotions were conflicted as nowhere had held us voluntarily captive as long as Alaska and we knew it would be hard to make it back, but money can’t last forever and no more renters meant no more supplemented travel and covered house payment. The real world was calling, and we couldn’t send it to voicemail again. Continue Reading…

June was our time to make the long and scary drive up through Canada and into Alaska. I won’t get into much more detail on the drive as I already covered most of it, but as always, I’ll break down the costs and add some more details along the way. After floundering a bit in Washington and staying in casinos for five nights in a row due mostly to exhaustion, we hoped Alaska would renew our energy and let us finish our trip on a high note… and Alaska delivered.

As with previous travels to scary places like Myanmar and Vietnam, the fear quickly subsides as the journey progresses. The unknowns become answered, and the fear and anxiety lightens as we progressed in the journey. Alaska went from a far away dream, to one of our most desired destinations to revisit. Combined with the amazingness of Canada, it has quickly jumped to one of our favorite places in the world, and the expenses were quite manageable.

Total June Cost: $3,733
Total days in the camper: 30
Total days out of camper: 0
Cost per day: $124
States Visited: Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon
Total Miles: Approx 4,500

Summary

We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best as our Canadian and Alaskan journey began. We loaded up on groceries in Washington and scouted out free sites along the route. Although the total driving miles were quite daunting, gas prices were much lower than we had planned, thanks to a favorable Canadian exchange rate along with cheaper gas prices overall. Amazingly, we spent less in June than we did in four other months while on the road! We skipped some of the things we might have done if we were on a regular one-week type vacation, but those are the financial sacrifices we’re willing to make to enjoy such a long journey. Let’s get into the details: Continue Reading…

Entering the month of May meant we had survived eight months of nomadic living; no permanent place to lay our head at night, always in search of the next great camping site and a return to the basic needs and wants of life. Some people ask us what our favorite place has been while others ask us how we’ve survived that long in a tiny camper without killing each other, both very valid questions!

We were lucky enough to catch up with many friends in April and this continued into May as we headed to Portland. We spent a few days with a friend there who just happened to have an extra apartment! We also made a side trip to catch up with family for a few days in Colorado and Oklahoma before heading north… to the last great frontier… Alaska! But first, we must cover May.

Total May Cost: $4,044
Total days in the camper: 21
Total days out of camper: 10
Cost per day: $130
States Visited: Oregon, Washington… and British Columbia, Canada!
Total Miles: 2,400 (+ 4,600 side trip) Continue Reading…

April had a lot to contend with after the stellar March report of low spending and magnificent scenery. However, April had an Ace in the hole that made it an even more special month – meet-ups! We were lucky enough to meet up with Susan Cooper, the legendary blogger who’s helped me from the start, our friends from New Orleans, a friend in Roseville and a friend in Portland!

Total April Cost: $3,393
Total days in the camper: 27
Total days out of camper: 3
Cost per day: $113
States Visited: California, Oregon
Total Miles: 2,590

Summary

We started the month still reeling from the damage Penny Lane sustained during the drive into Yosemite, but the pain was tempered after we received an incredible camping spot for six days (without prior reservation) in the National Park. From there, we were off to all of our friend meet-ups as we finished California and by the end of the month would end up in Portland. Three of the visits were with friends who lived there, but one visit was with friends who were flying into meet us in wine country. They agreed to meet us, but with one condition, they couldn’t be blamed for a high spending report! Our $109/day spending surprised us as it was on the low-end, so even though I hid a few expenses during our wine country week, we still came in below expectations!

Spending Details

The Good

At this point in the journey we had spent three months exploring the southwest and only conversing with strangers who we met along the way. This can sometimes result in instant friendships as is did with neighbors in Joshua Tree and Death Valley, but more often than not, it doesn’t. But April was guaranteed friend time as we were to meet up with friends in various cities as well as friends who flew in to share a vacation.

But first, came Yosemite National Park. We’ve been fortunate to see many beautiful places, but this park ranks at or nearly at the very top! It’s a great one to visit even if your only plan is to drive around and never put on hiking shoes. From the towering monoliths of El Capitan and Half Dome, to some of the tallest waterfalls in North America, there’s beauty every direction you turn, but there’s even more beauty when you make it up some trails. We completed 4-5 pretty good hikes ranging from five to ten miles to see more waterfalls and get off the valley floor, but there’s still so much more we could’ve done if we were later in the season and snow didn’t block our paths. If you’ve never been, you should definitely add it to your list.

After we left Yosemite, we coordinated a dinner meet up with an old coworker and friend who lives in Roseville, California. We worked together for a few years and occasionally met up when we traveled for work, but we hadn’t ever meet each other’s significant others. I’ve said it from the beginning, but one of the most rewarding parts of the trip is to meet friends in their home and their city, people who we may have never seen again if we didn’t arrange it. We had a great dinner and got to tour their newly remodeled home. It was nice to get reconnected back to a former life, even if it was only for a night.

The next day we arranged to meet up with one of my favorite virtual people who I had never met before, Susan Cooper. We connected six or seven years ago as we were both starting our blogs and were trying to figure out how to make them big time. You know, those blogs you read about where the creators are making millions of dollars posting pictures of their dog. Well, neither of us have made our million, but we’ve been lucky to meet some interesting people through the process. We met Susan and her husband in one of their favorite little spots outside of Sacramento. They were incredibly nice and our only regret was we didn’t get to spend more time, but they graciously invited us to stay with them next time we’re through. That’s one thing we thought we’d have plenty of when we started this trip – time – but as we always do, we made ourselves rush as we squeezed them in between Yosemite and wine country.

Up next, we headed to Healdsburg in Sonoma County with our friends who were flying in from New Orleans to meet us in one of their favorite spots. You’d think there would be amazing little campgrounds everywhere in wine country, but surprisingly, there’s not! We ended up in a “full-timer” RV park where our campers were stacked in like row houses and Lucy had to search the whole lot for some grass*. It wasn’t the serene woodsy campsite where we wanted to show our friends how we lived with one in nature, but it was a place to park it at least.

We spent five days exploring the Sonoma area and were lucky enough to meet some of their friends who they knew from their many previous trips. From the “father of organic wine-making” Lou Preston (you should try his win, it’s really good) to some really great artists, we got to meet some really interesting people. We were even lucky enough to get an invite to a dinner at one of their houses with great conversation – and more great wine. It’s so amazing that people will take in strangers and make them feel so warm.

After all of the friend stops, we had two weeks to make it up the coast and into Portland where Jocelyn would have to fly out at the end of the month. We spent four days at one of our most amazing campsites yet in the King’s Range National Conversation Area, which lies within the Lost Coast. It’s one of the most rugged coastlines we’ve ever seen and the difficulty of traveling there meant we were nearly the only people at the site. We hiked up the coast a few miles to see the northern most colony of elephant seals and explore the natural beauty where the mountains meet the coast.

One of my most anticipated parks came next, Redwoods National Park! I’m obsessed with big trees, and the tallest trees on earth didn’t disappoint. We had some really fun hikes within the state and national parks and really enjoyed getting to spend time with these ancient wonders. Yes, I’m one of those weirdos who talks about trees like they’re people.

As mentioned earlier, we were pretty happy with our overall spending. We’ve established a new “west coast” norm which seems to be around $40/day cheaper than the east coast. Our food budget was one of the lowest yet as we have seemed to maximize our meal efficiency with Trader Joe’s, but as we head into Canada and Alaska, these number will quickly shoot up – unless of course, we can catch our own fresh salmon**.

The Bad

All of our expense items were pretty well under control, even though I laundered some extra money that was spent our vacation-trip. That’s the good part of being the trip accountant, I know how to hide expenses when necessary.

We also had some additional travel expenses as Jocelyn flew back to Dallas to emcee event at our alma mater, Oklahoma State. I stayed back at a state park just south of Portland with Penny Lane and Lucy as it was too difficult to find sitters for both of them that would’ve allowed me to travel. It turns out, we probably picked one of the worst parks for me to spend six days.

We’ve stayed in parks before where it was pretty obvious people were living in them full time. Most public parks (state or national) limit the amount of time you can stay because of that exact reason – they don’t want people moving in full time. But as we’ve learned, not all campgrounds enforce it.

As we’ve been exposed to more socioeconomic diversity on the trip, we’ve definitely gained empathy for people in tough situations. People who lost their jobs, lost their homes and are doing everything they can to hold on. However, we haven’t gained empathy for people who aren’t honest. We had a previous strange experience outside of New Orleans where we had a load of laundry stolen from the dryer, so our tolerance for this was already low.

Luckily, at this park we didn’t have anything stolen, but there was more than one time we caught some of the “locals” in the park surveying other people’s property, which is usually the first step of “the steal”. There was an unsavory crew of 3-4 barely functioning RV’s where people were always loitering around. I’d walk by and say hi, but usually no more response than an untrusting stare back at me. It wasn’t real cool, but I wasn’t worried enough that it made me leave… I’m pretty comfortable in protecting my own property thanks to by big companion – Lucy!

It was more of a nuisance that reminded me of the life in the real world.

The Ugly

I don’t think I have an ugly for this month. The expenses were under control, we had great times with friends and we saw beautiful scenery.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you about Oregon. The southern coast is filled with incredible beaches where beautiful stretches of sand meet the rugged coast. It’s filled with state parks that presumably get packed in the summer, but during our visits we had miles of coastline seemingly to ourselves. Lucy loved running up and down the beach, chasing birds and seeing what smelly stuff she could find.

I guess the only thing that could’ve been better was the weather – so maybe I do have an ugly. Everywhere we went around California and Oregon we heard about their record rainfall and snowfall this year. We felt it as we had many days in a row when we didn’t see the sunshine, but instead a lot of rain and cold. We had at least three to four weeks of this damp, cold weather that made us ready to get off the coast. Portland was our first trip inland, but I’ll cover that in next month’s review. The good news is we’ve found warmer and dryer temperatures now!

 

*Interestingly, as we’re on the west coast, there’s many places where it’s easier to find “grass” than grass
**It’s funny, because everywhere we go we wish we brought our fishing poles. But then we remember we’re not big fisherman, and we usually end up giving up pretty quickly because we aren’t any good at it

Friend time — the pictures on top are in wine country with our friends from New Orleans. The picture on the bottom is with Susan Cooper and her husband!

The Lost Coast! This pristine land in northern California is a protected conservation area with ~26 miles of untouched coastline.

Up the coast from California to Oregon – beautiful beaches

Pictures from Redwoods State and National Parks

The top picture is from Mendocino, CA – the place we’ll retire to (if we ever get rich); the other two are from the California coast

Yosemite National Park

More from Yosemite National Park – just beautiful!

Our Costs to Travel the World

We never thought we’d be lucky enough to travel the world, and we were concerned about how much it would cost. However, after getting our money under control and saving intensively, we knew would be able to pull this off.

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.

Round the World Cost Summary

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

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.

Round the World Cost 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