Archives For Travel

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

Spending Details

The Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bad

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

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

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

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

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

The Ugly

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Petra… absolutely incredible

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

Tigers in Thailand

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

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

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

The Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand

The Glacier Lagoon in Iceland

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

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

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

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

Monks laughing in Myanmar

From the beginning, March was lining up to expensive as we traveled California and experienced its high-priced gas, food and camping, but we were prepared to deal with it as we explored the amazing state with the most National Parks (9). Then what do you know, I just finished our expense report, and it’s the cheapest we’ve had while fully on the road! Not only that, but the sites are some of the best we’ve visited. Let’s get into it.

Total March Cost: $2,977
Total days in the camper: 31
Total days out of camper: 0
Cost per day: $96
States Visited: California
Total Miles: 3,140

Summary

March was all about California, and for once, it wasn’t about the unexpected expenses that shot up our previous monthly totals. Our per day spending of only $96 was the second lowest month since January, but the lowest month while fully on the road. We’ve experienced four national parks so far, along with some other California dreamin’ locations. Overall, we’re really happy with our costs and hope to continue the momentum through Oregon and Washington!

Spending Details

The Good

We started our California journey the first week of March in Joshua Tree National Park. It’s one of those places I’ve heard about, but usually only from TV shows or movies where people go to eat mushrooms and “find” themselves. I can see why. It’s pretty trippy coming from the Los Angeles landscape of concrete and metal to one of the desert, with Joshua trees throwing their limbs in crazy directions and large boulders thrown around in piles like a giant little kid left them. It wasn’t as astonishing for us since we’d spent the previous two months in the desert and seen some similar sites, but it was still cool. Our favorite part was probably our neighbors who we ended up sharing our separate sites with. They had two kids, four and six who loved Lucy and loved playing. It was fun hanging out and sharing stories over s’mores.

After Joshua Tree, it was on to Death Valley National Park. It was only $1/day more than Joshua Tree, but still very cheap at only $16/day. Death Valley was like nothing I previously imagined – which my simple imagination had pictured only two small mountains with a sandy valley running through the middle.. and some rusted, broke down cars. Instead, the vastness of the landscape was hard to even take in as everything seemed larger than life. The weather was beautiful with highs in the 60’s-70’s, so we didn’t get the full desolate desert feeling the park presents in the summer.

We did get some major winds though, with dust blowing through the air and gusts over 70 mph refinishing our windshield. It happened while we were driving out to “Racetrack”, which is one of those places I always thought would be neat to see, but never knew where it was. Turns out, it’s in Death Valley! It’s a nasty 27 mile one way drive over sharp rocks that sometimes pile together to make it feel like a gravel road. It took over 2 hours, but the damage to the 4Runner will last much longer, mostly because the wind gust that showered the windshield with rocks that left many tiny pits! The Racetrack was really neat, with rocks seemingly sliding across the desert floors over years, leaving a small path behind them. Scientists figured out why a couple of years ago, but it’s more fun to imagine they are pet rocks who have been set free, as my brother hilariously commented.

We also met some cool people in Death Valley; maybe the person I want to be when I grow up! Steve owns a 1957 Airstream which he meticulously renovated over three years while providing hospice care for his wife who had early onset dementia and has now passed on. Okay, that parts really sad, but you needed to hear it to fully appreciate Steve. His new partner, Julia,  was a nurse her entire life before her husband passed, and she also helped with end of life patients and said she thought it was an absolute privilege to provide the final company and care for someone as they passed. So yes, they’re both saints. Steve and his previous wife also lived on a sailboat traveling the world for seven years, and before that, he was a pilot. He’s like Sir Richard Branson, but not as rich monetarily.

Steve and Julia told us about their favorite spot in California which we had to visit, Alabama Hills, just outside of Lone Pine. We decided to visit and it just happened they were there at the same time, so they made us enchiladas (Steve hand makes his own tortillas and bread, as you’d expect). Alabama Hills ranks as one of our favorite free camping site as it sits at the base of Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental US, and provides a stunning vista. If you’ve ever watched a western movie made before the 1970’s, it was probably filmed here as the location has doubled for sets in Texas, Nevada, Wyoming and even India and Pakistan! It’s beautiful and one we’ll always remember thanks to Steve and Julia.

After Alabama Hills, it was on to more National Parks, Sequoia and King’s Canyon. They’re right next to each other, so it’s appropriate to talk about them together. We weren’t as lucky with the weather as we were in Death Valley because it’s pretty early in the season and much of the parks are still covered in snow. In fact, most of King’s Canyon is closed until the end of April because of mud slides and ice on the road. We still experienced some beautiful hikes and got to see the thickest tree in the world (General Grant) and the largest tree by volume in the world (General Sherman). I love trees so it was amazing to walk through the Sequoia groves and think about how they’ve see the world change the last millenniums.

After the parks, we headed to the coast to get some warmer temperatures and beach time… but I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll cover that below.

We kept our spending low thanks to lower mileage, longer stays and we controlled food expenses really well. Like I mentioned earlier, it was nice to finally have a month where we didn’t have an unexpected large expense.

The Bad

As we headed across California to the coast, we got excited to finally get some beach time and warmer weather, rather than the lower 60’s for highs and lower 40’s for lows we’ve experienced most of the trip. We packed a lot of summer clothes but hadn’t really used any yet!

We started in a small county park outside of Los Olivos, which was apparently the town “Sideways” was filmed. It was a rugged drive up into the mountains, but gave us some nice scenic views with wildflowers. However, it also gave us our first exposure to Calitrash, as I non-political correctly call them. We were woken up a 4:30am by a young man screaming at the girl who he was with, while she switched between yelling back and trying to get him to calm down. He continued until about 5:30am when she left, and then proceeded to yell at a national forest worker trying to collect payment the next morning. Luckily, he left later that day but we were still on edge the next night.

We hiked around the area and enjoyed the views of the central valley. The next few days I realized I took a little something home with me (in addition to the tick that bit me on the neck and left a nasty mark during the day)… poison oak. It was probably from a combination of Lucy running through it along with me brushing into it, but I probably compounded the issue while pulling numerous ticks off of Lucy as we we were hiking. I got it on my arms, legs and feet and it lasted over the next week. Yuck.

After the mountains, we stopped in Los Olivos for a delicious tri trip sandwich, before heading to Hobson Country Park on the beach which gave us quick access to Santa Barbara. As we pulled in, we identified more Calitrash and tried to get a spot away from them. They were three surfer dudes who were bleached out by the sun and burned out by the drugs. We were still too close as they kept us awake all night burning their piles of construction wood they probably stole from a wood shop… pieces of plywood, 2×4’s, etc. Luckily, they left… and then we got a new neighbor… a young couple whose quietness in the evening gave way to drinking all night, playing music and then getting sick outside their tent (in our view) the next morning. It was pretty amazing.

It wasn’t all bad though, as we enjoyed Santa Barbara, Ojai, San Simion and some other sites up the coast. We toured the Hearst Castle which was pretty amazing, but we weren’t able to go much farther up Highway 1 because of major washouts, including a bridge that had to be torn down. We’ll save that for next time.

The Ugly

Maybe I should factor in some additional expenses into the March report, as we suffered a heartbreaking accident. We try to keep our driving under four hours per day because it gets pretty exhausting pulling the camper. As we left the coast, we had the option to split the drive to Yosemite into two days, or drive hard and do it in one. The light at the end of the tunnel (Yosemite) shined so brightly that we went for it.

It was a lot of driving through some tough conditions as the area has experienced some major landslides, but we made it through. It wasn’t until the next morning that we realized at what price… I woke up and went outside to discover a major gash down the side of our precious Penny Lane. We’ll probably have to get the whole panel replaced along with some work on the door, but luckily it’s still functional. I guess some damage can be expected when driving a camper 30k+ miles in one year in some major rugged terrain, but I sure hoped it wasn’t.

Just so I don’t leave this report with so much negativity, I did want to share some wins. We pulled into Yosemite without any reservations (not advised) and scored a spot for six nights! The reservation system opens up five months in advance with most spots reserved out within a few minutes, so we got incredibly lucky to get our spot. The weather was also beautiful… but I’ll save that for next time. Let’s see if we can keep the spending low, keep finding amazingly beautiful sites and also limit any further damage to Penny Lane!

Hiking through Sequoia National Park where you can see the big trees everywhere. The picture of Jocelyn on the top isn’t even a named tree!


We were treated to some fantastic sunsets in Death Valley. The bottom left picture is “Racetrack” where rocks slide across the desert floor. Bottom right is the Saltwater Basin in Death Valley, but gives you a view of the vastness of the area.


To the coast! The top picture is from one of our favorite beach campgrounds, Jalama Beach. The bottom right is from Hobson County beach, where we met most of our Calitrash.


Various shots from King Canyon National Park – that’s Jocelyn in a tree! The bottom right picture shows how much snow still remained in Sequoia National Park… piled up very dangerously on this bridge.


The Alabama Hills on the eastern side of the Sierras and one of our favorite campgrounds! It’s BLM land so it’s free, and the sites are unbelievable.


Joshua Tree National Park, with some of Jocelyn’s finer pictures. Bottom right you can see me standing with one of our neighbors, four year old Lucy (and our dog, Lucy!).


More incredible pics from Death Valley. We didn’t see full super blooms as we always seemed to be a few weeks ahead of them, but we still saw some beautiful flowers.

February was the month we’ve dreamed of since we set out on our road trip. We spent 27 out of 28 days in the camper, explored amazing ruins and beautiful landscapes of the west and enjoyed cheap camping along the way. It should be just the start of an incredible five months that leads to our next big decision in life — when we return to Dallas and the real world — but until then, we’re off to explore.

Total February Cost: $3,181
Total days in the camper: 27
Total days out of camper: 1
Cost per day: $114
States Visited: New Mexico, Arizona
Total Miles: 208,009 – 211,770

Summary

We’re very happy with our $114 per day spending in February, especially considering our east coast months were more in the $150/day average! We even had some non-essential “upgrades” we were able to purchase this month that will definitely save us money in the future and allow us to camp off the grid even more. We’ll be in good shape if we can keep to this spending level, although I can already see it increasing as we move past Arizona and into California.

Spending Details

February Spending Report
The Good

There was a whole lot of good in February. If you read my New Mexico and Arizona trip reports and kept up with Facebook, you saw the exploring we were able to do this month. These two states are full of old archaeological sites from those who came before us, and those we shipped off their native land. Their surviving ruins show how integrated their life was with nature and how instead of trying to control nature like we do now, they lived according to it. Most of their structures melted back into the earth from where they came, but there are some remaining sites such as the Gila Cliff Dwellings and numerous cliff dwellings around Sedona, Arizona.

Looking at our expense categories, most of them are in line or below the overall averages. In previous months, we would always have one line item get way out of control which would skyrocket our per day total. The only line item a little high was goods, but I’ll cover that below.

The category we’re most excited about in February was our per day spending with campsites. We were amazed to find the state parks in New Mexico were only $14/day, even with full electric and water hook ups! On the east coast, we’d pay anywhere between $25-$45 per day, and of course the $95 per day in NYC! As we moved into Arizona, we found incredible camping in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and National Forest sites that were free!! Of the two weeks we spent in Arizona, we only paid for three nights in Phoenix and that’s because we loved the state park and we needed to clean up after so much time roughing it. On that note, we also spent one night at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Chandler with hotel points to really live the luxury life.

The Bad

I guess we did have one legitimate bad thing in February; we had a blow out on one of our trailer tires while driving through Santa Fe. It could’ve been really bad if we were driving on the highway because there’s horror stories of blowouts tearing up the sides of Airstreams, or even worse, causing a major accident on the highway. Instead, it was a minor annoyance as it happened late in the evening and most tire shops were closing, but luckily we were able to find some guys to help us out (if you ever need tires in the southwest, go to Peerless Tires!!). We spent some money on that and then decided to add a spare for the trailer so if this happened in the middle of Alaska, we wouldn’t end up like the guy in Into the Wild.

We also spent extra time in Phoenix due to another upgrade. After spending 8 days roughing it, our battery was pretty low and we learned driving doesn’t add much juice. If we wanted to continue living our off the grid life, we needed solar power. I started with a crappy 25 watt set up from Wal-Mart, but we learned pretty quickly it wasn’t powerful enough for our needs. As we went through Phoenix, Jocelyn found a solar store that gets great reviews, so we went there. We ended up with a 100 watt kit which included charge controllers and all of the wires (hey dad, they were 10 gauge, you were right) for right around $200! It was a hell of a deal and after researching solar for the previous month, we were happy to find a set up that works for us. It keeps our battery fully charged with all of the sun in the southwest, so the only reason we’re pulled back into civilization is for fresh water and to dump (the tanks).

The Ugly

We drove a lot between the two states and if you were to analyze our route on a map, you’d think we were crazy. In both states, we stayed mostly south, but then took a quick trip up north before heading back south again. This was by plan though, because we had two areas we really wanted to visit in the north of each state, and when the weather decided to cooperate, we shot up to enjoy 3-4 days in Santa Fe (New Mexico) and Sedona (Arizona) before plunging back south as the cold weather moved back in. We were happy to take on the extra miles.

Overall, our February travels were amazing. We were able to settle into our westwardly way of camper living, explored some incredible sites and did some great hiking along the way. We continue to outfit the Airstream to our needs, but we also think about what is next. We don’t know about the real world yet, but I think it’d be fun to start making bad ass camper vans… you know, the old conversion vans with 4×4 tires, grill guards and a roof rack? If we had that, we really could go anywhere…

These are all pics from around Sedona – this place is beautiful!

Cliff dwellings and Petroglyphs from sites around Sedona

Night time skies around Arizona and New Mexico

Some of Jocelyn’s great pics from around Arizona

Our flat tire and the great guy (Michael) who came after hours to fix it!

After New Mexico, our westwardly route took us over to Arizona. While New Mexico has an easily identifiable profile – culture, food, geography, etc… I don’t feel Arizona has the same. Based on my previous visits, I knew it had some fancy stuff around Phoenix, some cool desert towns up north along Route 66, a racist sheriff in the south and apparently a lot of spring training for MLB teams.

After our two weeks through the state, I’m still not able to identify an overall profile, but I can at least add some more descriptors! The main ones would be: snow birds, lots of great archaeological sites, great free camping and beautiful landscapes. Let’s get to the trip.

As we headed to Arizona, we took the typical few hours before arrival to research where we should visit. Jocelyn found a national monument in eastern Arizona that was within driving distance, so we headed that way to Chiricahua National Monument. Have you ever heard of the place before? We sure hadn’t.

If you’ve ever visited Bryce Canyon National Park, you’d recognize some of the geographical formations, but in a more yellowish-tone, rather than the orange and red of Bryce. We completed a roughly 8.5 mile hike through the main highlights and were blown away by the natural beauty. Rock formations like “balanced rock” and “duck on a rock” didn’t take much imagination to name, because they were exactly that… big rocks that were stacked high upon columns and resembled different shapes.

The main campsites fill up months in advance, so Jocelyn wasn’t surprised when we arrived late in the afternoon to no availability. However, I was a bit surprised because she failed to mention this bit of information which might have persuaded me to drive in a different direction and skip it altogether! Instead, we started the first of many off road excursions with Penny Lane across Arizona. We took a six mile drive down a heavily rutted gravel and dirt road where the only other traffic were really, really interesting hippies in vans you’d imagine hippies driving. The best was the old school bus that was pulling a VW van… double cool.

We managed to skip the hippy camps which must have been farther down the road, and instead settled on a nice treed site next to a creek. Oh yes, and it was free. If we had a main theme in Arizona, it was “find the awesome BLM and National Forest sites six miles off the paved road where the amazing camping is free!“.

We headed out after one night and left the rough road, only to find another. This time we headed north to Tucson and found some more BLM land, six miles up a pretty steep gravel road with ruts, that’s not recommended for trailers. I guess we saw this as a challenge instead of a recommendation. We spent the next two nights waiting out some cold and rainy weather while enjoying good views high over Tucson.

After Tucson, we had to decide which direction to turn, either south to hug the border or north up past Phoenix and to Sedona. As with most of our destination decisions, weather was the deciding factor and a three day warm spell meant we were headed to Sedona! We heard good things about the city previously from friends, so we were excited to add it to our trip.

As we left Tucson, we stopped in Phoenix to hit up the outlet malls so Jocelyn could get some new pants. We had been roughing it for a few days and we were getting to the point where either our bodies fully fought odors and no longer smelled, or our noses gave up the fight and we simply couldn’t smell ourselves. Jocelyn headed in to the mall while I stayed out with Lucy (I wasn’t ready for that much civilization) and when she texted me that she was headed to the fragrance aisle to freshen up, I knew it was time to take action. As you might know, I traveled for work and know my way around hotel programs. There’s a Sheraton Wild Horse Pass that was only a half mile away, and the points redemption wasn’t too high, so I made the call that it was time to fancy up.

We timed our visit so we maximized our one day at the hotel, arriving right around the 1pm check in time. I used my method to guarantee upgrades – slipped the front desk guy a $20 bill with my license on check in – and we were paid back kindly with a nice corner suite with a separate bedroom and $20 in drink coupons! This is the forth time I’ve done this trick, and while Jocelyn finds it extremely awkward, it’s worked every time and has been well appreciated by the front desk agents!

We spent the next day in total luxury and soaked up as much free internet and hot water as we could. We hit up the casino next door, got our $10 each in free slot play for signing up to their rewards program, and cashed out $17 ahead! It wasn’t a big amount, but usually we lose, so we were pumped. The next day was in 70’s so we spent the morning poolside before timing our last shower just before check out. On to Sedona.

Sedona. Wow, let me just tell you about Sedona. It’s reallll beautiful – a small town surrounded by mountains of red beauty. We kept up our theme and drove 10 miles on a dirt road to find one of the most beautiful campsites of our entire trip – once again, free, in a national forest. We spent the next few days watching the sun set over the beautiful red rocks, exploring the town (this only took a few hours) and doing one of our most exciting hikes of the trip – the “Hangover Trail” which was around five miles on a ridge of a mountain overlooking Sedona and the surrounding beauty. We really enjoyed the town and will definitely go back.

Let’s talk archaeological sites. As you probably know by now, I’m fairly obsessed with them. We had some good ones in New Mexico, but I was also very pleasantly surprised by what Arizona had to offer. Just around the Sedona area there are at least five major sites to see cliff dwellings and petroglyphs – Montezuma’s Castle, Montezuma’s Well, Hananki, Palatki, and V-Bar-V. We hit them all up but the last, so that will be left for next time. These were all sites of the Sinaguan people and really shows how many people civilized the area pre-Columbus. I’m continually astonished by the number of Native American ruins in the southwest.

After Sedona we headed to Phoenix in search of solar. Solar panels are a pretty complicated deal and if anyone can easily explain them, you probably have a bright future. My first set was a cheap Wal-Mart deal with a 25 watt panel. We realized after a few days this wasn’t going to do much and we needed to upgrade. We found a great retail location in Phoenix (Solar Penny) and spent $200 to get a 100w panel with a charge controller and all of the hook-ups. It was a great deal, and I’m happy to say it’s kept the battery fully charged in the southwest sun, and we may never need to plug in to the electric again! It was a good investment that will continue to pay off in the future as we won’t need to pay for electric sites just to recharge the battery.

Our last stop in Arizona was the Kofa National Wildlife refuge, just north of Yuma. We once again dove south to avoid the next cold front, which isn’t great for gas expenses, but at least we are able to avoid the cold. We continued our off road theme and took Penny Lane down a seven mile gravel road, across a proving (bombing) range and over a small creek where she bottomed out and I had to build a small bridge of rocks to get her over. Yes, that all really happened.

The site in Kofa was once again, free and incredibly beautiful. We spent the next two days hunkered down to avoid the cold rain… and uh, the bombs. Apparently, it’s an active proving ground – and why they have it next to an active “wildlife refuge”??? We felt we were somewhere in the middle east, with the desert beneath our feet and the sounds of bombs dropping in the distance. While we enjoyed it, we knew it was time to head out to California… after, of course, I built a new bridge with wood and ramps to get us over the ravine on the way out!

Arizona was a lot of fun and even though we missed wide swaths of it, we were able to get a good feel and find areas we’d go back and explore again. I guess the state profile includes – lots of potential to explore and return. On to California!

Some highlights from the Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona

Some of my favorite archaeological sites in the US are in Arizona, Montezuma’s Castle (top) and Montezuma’s Well (bottom). Can you see the cliff dwellings in the bottom pic?

Pics from two archaeological sites very close to Sonoma, AZ – Hananki and Palatki, both ruins from the Sinagua people.

Our one night refresh in the beautiful Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort!

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