Archives For Travel

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)

Summary

Our expenses were higher in May as we prepared for our northern exposure and made a fun side trip to catch up with family we hadn’t seen in five months. To lessen the impact of the extra mileage on the 4Runner, we rented a car in Portland that was more comfortable and had much better gas mileage. This paid off as in total we drove almost 5,000 miles in ten days… I’m sure the rental car company wouldn’t have agreed to our $18/day if they knew we were driving that far*. We saved a lot of money on campsites because we stayed with our friend in Portland and also stayed with family for a few days. I broke out the side trip costs just so they don’t distort the other categories too much, but I like to keep all expenses in the totals just so you have a realistic expectation of what this trip will cost us (with surprises and all). Here are the details:

Spending Details

The Good

The best part of Oregon – which is a similar theme to our entire trip – was catching up with friends who we hadn’t seen in a long time. In Portland, we caught up with a former co-worker and friend from my Accenture and HP days (when I actually had a job). He moved his family to Portland a few years ago from Houston and really likes his new city, so we were excited to see it… and also excited to use his extra apartment which he hadn’t rented out yet! He let us stay in it for as long as we wanted, but our need for tortured travel meant we only stayed two weekends on either side of our extra road trip.

Let’s talk Portland first. Sure, there are shows making fun of it like “Portlandia”, but it actually does a decent job of pointing out quirks of the city’s inhabitants. It’s full of nice and interesting people.. and yes, things like four people stopping at a four way stop and waiting for an hour as they all try to wave the other people on really could happen here. But don’t let the niceness fool you, we also talked to people who had friends lower themselves off the main bridge in town to block the oil company (I believe Exxon) from disembarking on their mission to explore and map oil in the Arctic Ocean. These are people who are nice for the right reasons!

We really loved our friend’s neighborhood in Portland, the Sellwood area. It was obviously designed in a different age when houses were neighborly instead of compound-y. The front porches were active with friendly chats and only a few blocks away are some of the famous Portland food carts. You can walk down to the river with a large public park and even an amusement park, or catch up with neighbors at “share square”, a designated street crossing where each corner involved sharing: a tiny library, neighborhood bulletin board, small playground and a hangout area. It also helps to be there in the right time of the year, there was some rain, but it was offset with beautiful sunny days that highlighted the streets full of flowers. It reminded us of our former beloved neighborhood in New Orleans.

We parked Penny Lane and the 4Runner in Portland while we made a quick side trip to Oklahoma to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Sure, it’s hard to call a 28 hour drive a ‘side trip’, but with a rented hybrid including satellite radio, we enjoyed it! We also stopped on the way back in Boulder to spend a few nights with family there. It was nice to have real showers and real beds for a while, but the north was calling and we returned.

As we continued on, we left Portland and headed into the interior to explore some of the state and national parks. We first headed into Bend to see what the city was all about. I previously discovered a love for Deschutes’ “Black Butte Porter” beer and when I found out they were in Bend, that became a must visit. We spent an afternoon sampling beer and food before heading to their brewery and taking a full tour. This was on a workday (I think Tuesday) so let’s say it was for scientific taste-testing and to make sure I agreed with company standards. It passed.

We based at a state park south of Bend and spent four days exploring the area. We first went north to Smith Rocks State Park and watched as the landscape which had already turned from the sub-tropical rainforest of the coast, to a drier mountain climate in Bend, change again to an almost desert like landscape of Northeast Oregon. Smith Rocks State Park is centered around desert mountains and is a world renowned climbing site. We headed out on a 5-6 mile hike with Lucy and little did we know, would become very important in someone else’s day.

As we rounded a corner on the steep ascent, we saw a lady with a big dog standing next to the trail. The dog was out of control, so we stalled a bit hoping our mountain selfies would give her enough time to move on. It wasn’t for our own safety, but more because we don’t always know how Lucy will react. Sure, we think she’s the best dog in the world, but after she penned a little dog earlier in Oregon, we have been a little more careful!

Okay, I guess I should tell that story first – we were hiking with her on a leash, when a little Jack Russell, off-leash, came charging at us from down the trail. We’ve adopted the approach of unleashed dogs are calmer because they’re not in “protector mode”, so we let go of Lucy. Lucy met charging little Jack like a Patriot missile, but Little Jack is apparently a little Napoleon as his owners told us afterwards, and Lucy wasn’t going to cower to his demands as she’s ten times bigger. Instead, she quickly flipped him on his back, penned him down and probably used some dog words not appropriate for the blog. We removed her and since we were in Oregon, the owners profusely apologized and refused to lay any of the blame on Lucy, even as we insisted it was partially her fault! Such nice people.

So yes, we’re sometimes hesitant with her, but back on Smith Rocks, the lady wasn’t budging. We headed up and as we approached her, we could see the fear in her face. She was dog-sitting for friends who were climbing the mountain and the large German-Shepard mix had taken control of the hike as it kept jumping at and scaring her. She asked if she could try walking with us and we agreed, hoping the wise and calm nature of Lucy would calm him. Instead, she growled at him and he submitted to the wise old lady. She continued along with us as we realized they would become new participants in our day. It was cool though, because it kept Kujo under control.

We ventured down the mountain and agreed to part ways as she could see her friends climbing and figured they would be down soon. We broke off the trail and had lunch while Lucy cooled off in the river. As we continued on, we could hear an obnoxious barking which echoed down the canyon and shortly after we saw the owner standing next to it. It was then Jocelyn realized it was our friend again. Kujo had totally taken over and our friend’s last resort was to tie him to a nearby tree and panic… she broke into full tears as she saw us coming. I’m not always good with hints, but I guess this one was clear enough. We told her we’d get Kujo back to their campsite so she could tie him up and wait there for the owners. I took his leash and he challenged me with a nip and bark – and Lucy nearly broke her leash away from Jocelyn trying to get over to him, but I got him back under control with some Cesar-like mind tricks**. We led him back to the campsite with no issues and a relieved (and soon to be quitting) babysitter found some peace.

Our next day trip was to Crater Lake National Park. We kept the camper at the state park in La Pine so we wouldn’t have to drag Penny Lane on the five hour round trip South. From previous research, we knew most of the park was still closed due to snowed in roads (even in mid-May!) but we still wanted to see the lake. As we approached the Rim Village, we saw parking lots boxed in with snow 15 feet high and crammed with cars and tourists excited to see the lake. We found a spot and hiked up the snow hill to see the view. It was a gorgeous deep blue panorama with reflecting clouds and a snow-covered crater.

It’s here I steal some content from the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He visited with his son and said something was wrong the place. It was just too perfect – like humanity had never been there. He said it would be better if they piled some beer cans around the rim or maybe even a giant beer can pile in the middle. We caught our view and spent just as much time watching the other tourists swarming the sides before heading back to their cars and checking Crater Lake off their list, just as we did.

The Bad

The only bad from May was our own damn fault. It was the lack of respect we gave to Washington. Maybe it was due to exhaustion caused by nine months of nomadic travel or maybe because we were getting excited for the last leg of our trip, but either way, we didn’t do Washington justice. The highlight is we stayed at casinos for five nights – which meant free stays – and since we had free stays, we of course had to gamble.. and guess what, we actually won on slots and craps! I much prefer losing because then my appetite for gambling is gone for a while, but it’s nice to have some income when you don’t get income.

We did see Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington and enjoyed some camping near it, but much of the park was still under snow. We headed to Olympic National Park afterwards but the casinos were kinda far so we didn’t do much exploring in the park. Actually, we drove to the national park campsite but didn’t have cell phone reception, so instead we opted for the casino which had free electric hook ups! It was also cold and rainy since we were back on the coast, so we weren’t having much of it. We hopped the ferry to Whidbey Island and stopped in Bellingham to stock up for our final northern leg. Our grocery expenses were higher due to this stock up, but the investment will surely pay for itself as we experience the much more expensive shopping in Canada and Alaska.

The Ugly

We’ve seen our share of poverty as we’ve traveled the US, and unfortunately the closer you are to Native American reservations, the more noticeable the poverty becomes. We saw this throughout the Southwest as well as up through California and Washington. But the extreme poverty wasn’t limited to reservations.

One of the more unsettling impoverished towns was Aberdeen, Washington. As soon as we rolled into town, we noticed things weren’t quite right. Our visit to Walmart was full of faces that seemed to tell stories beyond our comprehension, and driving through downtown made it more noticeable. The few buildings that weren’t boarded up housed government and social services. After a Google, we learned it used to be a thriving logging town, but after federal regulations made logging more difficult, business dried up. I’m not sure what happened as there was still lots of logging in Oregon and parts of Washington, so maybe there was more to the story than just that. The town is now plagued with poverty and opioid addiction, which doesn’t lead to a happy ending. It’s the same story playing out in many places in the US.

We ended May on a high note as we crossed the Canadian border and checked into the Sheraton in downtown Vancouver. I still have hotel points, so we decided to spend two nights resting and soaking up as much hot water, wifi and tv as we could. Lucy did well as an urban dog forced to use sidewalks as a bathroom and riding elevators 27 stories… she’s so refined.

We made it to Canada. It almost feels like we did this entire trip just so we could make the last drive into Canada and Alaska. The unknown challenges and dangers were outweighed by the possible thrills and experiences, so the trip was a go. Google Maps said it was 48 hours of driving to Anchorage, so we rest and make it our mission in June.

*Okay, I have to admit it. I was actually upgraded to a nicer hybrid for an extra $8/day… usually I’m the King of don’t-try-to-upgrade-me, but I did some quick math to determine it was worth it… even though a little piece of me died. 

**Actually, there were no Cesar (the dog-trainer) mind tricks, I instead used my mom’s old farm trick, stepping on his back feet when he tried to jump on me. He didn’t like that, but it got him under control!

Meeting up with friends is always one of the best parts of the road trip!

Mt. Rainier National Park

Crater Lake National Park – I love the bottom pic because it looks nearly the same right side up as upside down!

Snow in La Pine State Park, Deschutes Brewery and Smith Rocks State Park

Silver Falls State Park is probably one of our favorite state parks. The nine mile trail takes you around some of the most gorgeous waterfalls in the area.

Mt. Hood National Park

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!

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!