I’m an IT business manager. I know eCommerce and the online space. I’ve grown up in the consulting world and will always be a consultant. My wife and I have great careers and make good money. We live in a nice part of Dallas and don’t have to worry about unexpected bills or living paycheck to paycheck. We take fancy vacations and buy nice things for ourselves.

Now throw all of that away. Quit the jobs and jeopardize the future. Lose our main sources of income. Rent out the house and live in a small camper. Experience life among homeless people living in parks. Who are we now?

We spend the majority of our lives developing our profile. We start out of high school or college with choosing our profession and how we’ll make money. We work hard to become the best in the field, and we start to believe we are the person we’ve created.

My first career in consulting proved it paid off to build a strong profile. I never wanted to be a “SAP” guy (business software), but when I saw the bonuses and raises that were attached to the profile, I pursued it! It works out best for a consulting company to develop individuals with strong profiles because they can then bring them in to make the client happy and make more money. However, it’s not always best for the employee, because when that specialty is no longer popular, their value quickly declines.

Sometimes our profile is the creation of something we really wanted to become, but there are also big influencers from the outside. Your parents want you to be successful, your spouse wants you to be happy or rich (or both), companies want you to buy their fancy crap and society wants you to live up to its economic standards.

Whether we like or not, society and culture are two of the biggest influencers of our profiles. Why else do we all dress and act the same? I can’t decide if my next hairstyle will be the man bun or the one where you shave your head up to the sides and keep it long up top…. just like all the other hipsters! We may deviate slightly, but we’re pretty much all living the same. Our tour guide in Indonesia, named Putu, was astonished when we told him we moved away from our parents’ houses in the US and that we lived many hours away. In their culture, the families stay together, in the same compound, within feet of each other. That’s part of their profile.

But what happens when your profile changes? What happens when you decide you no longer want to look rich, but instead want to be rich? What happens when you purposely drive a car with over 200k miles on it, even though you could afford a shiny new one? Or on the other side of it, what happens when you get laid off and you can no longer find a job in your industry – instead having to go work part-time at Home Depot because that’s the only thing you can find?

We become so tangled up in our profiles that we can’t see a life beyond it. That’s why it’s so hard for lifetime “corporate employees” to become entrepreneurs. Corporate employees, myself included, are accustomed to earning paychecks by completing specific tasks and living within the bigger and seemingly safer ecosystem. It’s too scary to try to make money on our own without all of this support.

Profiles feel very empowering when we’re in the middle of them, but when we’re suddenly thrown out, we learn they can actually be quite debilitating. By saying we’re one thing, we’re admitting we’re not the other.

The one driving force of humanity that’s kept us around is our ability to adapt. When we’re thrown in new situations, we can survive and often thrive. We’re not the single profiles we’ve created, but instead a whole range of possible new profiles.

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

First Lifestyle, Then Work?

February 18, 2017 — 4 Comments

Lifestyles are a major contributor to our happiness, but most often they’re designed around the remaining time we can squeeze from the rest of our life. It’s hard to live a lifestyle of pursuing the things you love if you’re working 80 hours a week.

What would happen if we redesigned our lives around a lifestyle we loved? For the first ten years of my post-college graduate life, my job determined my lifestyle. For the first seven years, I worked for Accenture and traveled Monday through Thursday for 90% of the year. I spent weekends back home in Dallas, but much of the time was used to catch up on the things I missed during the week – appointments, shopping, errands and any other time I could squeeze out to catch up with friends or my then girlfriend.

My weeks were filled with a lifestyle designed around my job. Even though I usually flew out on Monday morning, I’d dedicate time on Sunday evening to packing, ironing and finishing up whatever other errands popped up before heading out. Besides giving me the chance to work face to face with my client, the travel was also advantageous to my employer because it meant I was pretty much there to focus on work. There were no “outside” distractions we face at home like family, friends, clubs and organizations, volunteer activities, personal hobbies or errands. We were there to focus on work.

If I wanted to hang out with friends, it was only the people I was working with at the time. Sometimes that was good, but on other projects like when I traveled to Philadelphia for 1.5 years, I was the only consultant, so most evenings were spent alone. I didn’t mind too much because I was reading and writing a lot and the travel perks were pretty amazing, between hotel points, flight upgrades and extra cash from my per diem.

The job was still a really great opportunity where I learned a ton, met a lot of great people and made good money, but I was so over the travel. I left Accenture in 2011 and went to HP so I wouldn’t have to travel as much and could actually spend time with my wife. It worked out for a while and life was pretty balanced because I was working from home (which presents its own challenges), and I even got to take an unpaid leave in 2013 to travel the world for ten months!

After we came back to work in 2014, things really picked up. I was fortunate to get a promotion to Manager and the new project I joined back on was incredibly challenging and my wife also got a new job. Over the course of the next two years, HP separated, acquired multiple companies and went through a bevy of changes which required some intense work. In the end, I was managing a team of 60+ people globally and a website with hundreds of thousands of users. My day usually started with 100+ emails overnight from Asia and Europe, continued with 10 hours of conference calls during the day, and ended with conference calls with Asia sometimes until 10 or 11 at night. We also worked at least one weekend a month to deliver code to the new website and if the site ever went down at night or over the weekend, I also got to work! Needless to say, I was out of balance again.

I felt privileged to have such a good opportunity to deliver challenging work, make friends with so many people around the world and make some really good money, but it was taking a toll on my mental and physical health. My life was incredibly out of balance, and I wasn’t living the lifestyle I wanted, so we made the difficult decision to quit.

My wife and I have thought a lot about the lifestyle we love and are mostly in agreement (I doubt we’ll ever be in full agreement, but that’s fine). We landed somewhere around here:

  1. Ability to take long vacations domestically and internationally to explore the world
  2. Work similar schedules so we can enjoy each other’s company
  3. Include enough time to catch up with friends and family
  4. Pursue work we enjoy and can make money
  5. Pursue work that provides meaningful interactions and allow us to create or be a part of a community
  6. Earn enough money to do the things we want to do!

Anytime I think of a new career or job opportunity, I try to run it through that filter first. Previously when I thought about entrepreneurship opportunities, I only thought about how much money I could make off of it. Could it get me rich? I never pursued any of those opportunities because the idea would get old pretty fast, indicating I wouldn’t have been successful anyway.

I know many people will think I’m a total asshole for writing this because it’s such a “first world problem”. Most people will never get the opportunity to think about a “lifestyle first” approach due to just getting by paycheck to paycheck or sacrificing your life for the kids. However, there’s always something you can do to move that direction. For us, pursuing this lifestyle first approach motivated us to work really hard and save lots of money, so we can entertain it. I may end up going back to a corporate job that once again eliminates my lifestyle list above, but I’m sure as hell going to try hard not to!