They say history doesn’t repeat, but instead it rhymes. Well dang it, I guess our rhyme is: no matter what we try, our costs stay sky high! The problem this time was similar to what has bugged us in the past, regular bills that keep hitting us along with high restaurant costs. I even took our Christmas spending out of the report because with that included, we’ve really gone bonkers. Let’s break it down.

Total December Cost: $4,727
Total days in the camper: 18
Total days out of camper: 13
Cost per day: $152
States Visited: Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Oklahoma
Total Miles: 3,077

Summary

Our per day spending for December ended at $152, our highest of the last three months we’ve been traveling. While some areas of spending were the lowest of the last three months (campsite, excursion, food), two others really took it over the top: restaurant spending and regular bills. If I take regular bills out, we actually had one of the cheapest months so far.

Spending Details

december-spending-report

The Good

After Thanksgiving, we left Louisville with Jocelyn’s mom in tow and headed to Nashville for a one-night stopover. We checked to see if anything was going on, and there just happened to be a Charlie Daniels concert! It was his 80th birthday party and “volunteer jam” – an annual concert to raise money for veterans. It was a lot of fun with singers like Three Doors Down, Kid Rock, Travis Tritt, Luke Bryan and Chris Stapleton each singing a few songs… and Charlie Daniels, of course.

The most interesting part of the concert was when an older fellow was expressing his feelings towards Luke Bryan (with two middle fingers) while Bryan was singing one of his womanizing songs. Bryan waved him up towards the stage and when the guy got close enough, Bryan slapped/punched him in the face! I used to think Bryan’s music was okay, but now I really can’t stand it because all of his songs involve a “tan legged country girl” who’s there for his pleasure!

After Nashville, we headed to the east coast and visited Charleston, Edisto Island and Savannah before looping back through Florida. We were really surprised to see the damage still left behind from Hurricane Matthew, with beach houses torn up and many trees still down along the coast. As we headed back east through Florida, Jocelyn found one of our favorite campsites yet, Grayton Beach State Park. We spent five days bouncing between the beautiful little oceanside towns of Seaside, Watercolor and Grayton and even enjoyed a few days on the beach in 70 degree temperatures! It was a nice break from the previous three months of winter we were trying to escape.

While all of that was fun, the real purpose of our December trip was catching up with friends and family. Friend time fully started after Grayton Beach when we made our way to one of our favorite cities, New Orleans. We lived there for 3.5 years before leaving for our world trip in 2013 and were lucky enough to find some great friends. We spent four days catching up and enjoying some of the many fabulous restaurants around New Orleans… which also explains why our restaurant bills were so high for December!!

After New Orleans, we headed north back into the cold weather, and spent five days with our friends around our most recent home city, Dallas. We were able to fit Penny Lane into our friend’s backyard, and they let us shack up with them. It was fun to spend the pre-Christmas days with them because they have an adorable three year old daughter who was very excited about Christmas.

After Dallas, we headed even further into the cold and spent the rest of December in Tulsa, bouncing between our families and celebrating the holidays. All of the free nights with family and friends brought our daily camping costs way down, but we definitely made up for it with higher spending on restaurants and booze :).

The Bad

As I seem to say every month, if we don’t get our expenses under control, we’ll be forced to end our trip early so we don’t have to dig into our savings and investments too much. Will we make it to Alaska… we’ll know soon enough!

The Ugly

The most surprising expenses came from the “regular bills” category because a bunch of crap piled up at once. We pay our six months of car insurance in advance so that was a big one, my annual blog hosting service also hit us for ~$400 (yes, even though I do this blogging for free, I still have to pay for it!), and we had a small medical procedure that also hit us for ~$500. Remove all of those three and our expenses for December would’ve been quite low!

The medical procedure could’ve been a lot worse because I screwed up our Obamacare health insurance in 2016 and let it expire in November because I didn’t have the autopay set up correctly! We told the doctor we didn’t have insurance and they gave us the Medicaid rates which I think are equivalent to being a “cash customer”. When we paid, I asked the administrator what it would’ve cost with insurance, and it would’ve been at least 4-5 times higher! It’s pretty crazy to think things are more expensive through insurance than as a regular cash customer.

Our third month on the road finished up our time on the east coast and reacquainted us with great friends and family along the way. It reintroduced past issues of overspending but rewarded with great friends and family time. After we get back on the road in another week, we’ll finally head west to explore some of the greatest parks and scenery in the world.

By the way, if you’re wondering why my Facebook page has gone silent, it’s because we’ve been helping my parents renovate their bathroom! We’ve gutted and subsequently rebuilt it over the last two weeks and hope to be completely finished in a couple of days! I’ll add some more pictures on Facebook so you can see the results, but as I’ve mentioned before, there are benefits to letting us squat with you!!

Some of Jocelyn's pictures from Pisgah National Forest and The Great Smokies. Most of the National Park was closed due to the fires, so we'll have to save that for next time.

Some of Jocelyn’s pictures from Pisgah National Forest and The Great Smokies. Most of the National Park was closed due to the fires, so we’ll have to save that for next time.

 

 

The top left picture is a damaged house on Edisto Island. The other pictures are from the beach around Edisto Island.

The top left picture is a damaged house on Edisto Island. The other pictures are from the beach around Edisto Island.

We found the beach! The top right picture shows the Airstream food trucks along Seaside, Florida.

We found the beach! The top right picture shows the Airstream food trucks along Seaside, Florida.

New Orleans! Lucy spent some time in the Quarter and then we parked Penny Lane on our old street and had a good ol neighborhood party!! We're so lucky to have such great friends in New Orleans.

New Orleans! Lucy spent some time in the Quarter and then we parked Penny Lane on our old street and had a good ol neighborhood party!! We’re so lucky to have such great friends in New Orleans.

As the time ticks down in 2016, we find ourselves saying goodbye to the east coast. It was the beginning of our great American road trip full of unknowns but with an ambitious schedule of visiting every state on the east coast in a little over 2.5 months. It was complicated by a break down and a sick dog, but it was rewarded with visits to places we’d never been, time spent with friends who had grown distant and surprises of the great outdoors offered on the east coast.

After D.C., we headed through Shenandoah National Park to Kentucky and Oklahoma for Thanksgiving, and then headed back east through Nashville, the Great Smokies, Charleston, Savannah, Grayton Beach in Florida and then back through New Orleans and Dallas to spend some quality time with friends. We’ll spend some time in Oklahoma and Texas before continuing our journey west. If you follow my Facebook page, you saw most of the highlights through pictures, so I’ll leave it there until the December spending report where I’ll add some more on the trip. Instead, I want to do some self-analysis.

The most common question we got when traveling the world in 2013 is the same question we most commonly receive now: What’s your favorite place? It’s a generous question because it allows us to feel like we’re an expert handing out advice. When you quit your job and question what your purpose has become, it offers some purpose – that we’re out exploring and bringing back our findings to friends and family. It also forces us to focus on our travels and really think about what we’ve enjoyed most.

Just like when answering the question in 2013 after the around the world trip, my answer usually starts with “it depends on what you’re looking for” and includes multiple answers. Maybe it’s because I don’t like giving my “favorite place” as an absolute answer – just like when I watch a great movie and will put it in my “top 5” – or it might be just because there are so many cools places out there! By the way, the world trip favorites usually include Nepal, Turkey and Iceland… but New Zealand, Croatia, Israel and Jordan were also amazing… along with other places too of course!

With all that being said, I do have some answers for our current trip. The Adirondacks were beautiful, the White Mountains in New Hampshire were very surprising because I hadn’t really heard of them before, and Washington, D.C. was incredible! It was so gratifying to visit our friends in various cities and see how they live and we also met some nice people along the way.

The second most frequent question is some combination of “have you found yourself” or “do you know what you want to do next”? The second question is usually from people who know I quit my job in the corporate world to possibly pursue some entrepreneurial stuff. Well, I haven’t found that thing I’d be able to throw all my time and passion behind yet, but the things I love doing and don’t love doing have definitely been reinforced. It’s tough sometimes because you think this magical idea will just appear, but often they don’t. I gained some good insight when talking to my entrepreneur friend on finding opportunities and he put it this way:

People think of ideas/opportunities as “bubbles” that float in the air and can be captured by simply grabbing the right one. But in reality, you should look for people instead of these magical bubbles because all ideas and opportunities are tied to people. You have to network and find the right people that will lead to the next opportunity.

He ended it by saying you don’t find your passion, you grow your passion. I appreciated his encouragement and his insistence to stay patient.

The final question we sometimes get is “has this changed your perspective on life”. Honestly, I didn’t expect much perspective change in this trip because we wouldn’t be exposed to as much cultural change like the world trip, but Jocelyn pointed out a great one.

This trip has pushed us out of our normal social circles and forced us to see other ways of living. We both had great jobs in Dallas and most of our friends did as well. We weren’t exposed to much poverty, only through stories on television or homeless people asking for spare change on the side of the road, both of which were easy to avoid. We weren’t arrogant or willfully ignorant of these issues, we were just isolated.

However, when traveling in a camper, you can’t avoid it. We first noticed it with a potential campsite in NYC which was pretty far from city and didn’t have showers. Jocelyn researched online how to shower in NYC, and the most readily information came from homeless people who gave tips on which bathrooms you could use to give yourself a sponge bath – as long as you were discrete and cleaned up after yourself, some stores wouldn’t notice. We found a closer campsite with showers, so in the end we didn’t have to worry about it.

We noticed it again in Washington, D.C. when we saw people living out of their cars at the campsite. There’s is an automatic distrust our society has developed in people living in these conditions – they must be dangerous if they’re homeless and living out of their car, so we usually avoided them.

It continued when we were staying in a state park outside of New Orleans and there were people leaving in the campsite – even though you weren’t supposed to be there longer than two weeks. The first night we were there, our towels were stolen from the dryer in the group laundry, and automatically our minds went to charging the long term guests as the thieves. The next day Jocelyn was talking to one of the suspects in the same laundry room when the older lady answered Jocelyn’s question of “How long are you staying” by explaining how sometimes people get down on their luck and don’t have many options. She was staying in a small camper with her two 40+ year old sons as they were trying to figure out how they were going to make their life stable again.

We never figured out who stole our towels, but they remained the main suspects, mostly due to the distrust they automatically received by the position they were in. There’s no way it could’ve been the nice older couple in the expensive Airstream, right?

We’re very lucky to be able to take time off and travel the U.S. We’re lucky to have money saved up and invested that we can live off of while we travel. We’re lucky to be able to afford an expensive car repair bill or medical bill that could easily send others into the same state as some of the people we’ve met along the way. Once you start moving down these downward spirals, it can be very hard to get out and soon you could be facing the same kind of assumptions of your character based on your financial position. It’s definitely provided perspective.

After the holidays, we’ll head west as our road trip continues. I’ll update you as we find more answers… and of course, ask me if you have more questions!

lucy2-airstream

We’ve made it through our second month on the road. It’s usually at this point you start to adjust to the new way of life or go running back to the old way. That’s one thing we’ve figured out as we’ve transitioned through different phases – just married, traveling the world, new jobs and moving back… after 4-6 weeks it’s no longer a “new thing”, but it just becomes your way of life. The best news of the month – our 4Runner made it another 3,000 miles without any issues! Let’s look at the overall stats:

Total November Cost: $4,321
Total days in the camper: 21
Total days out of camper: 9
Cost per day: $144
States Visited: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee
Total Miles: 2,968

Summary

The total spend was still quite high at $4,321 and higher than the $100/month I’d like to get us down to. A lot was due to the areas we visited, really expensive areas like NYC and DC and some of the expensive things we did there – like eat! Come on, we couldn’t make it all the way to NYC and not enjoy the food scene, right??

Spending Details

november-spending

The Good

Surprisingly, we spent 9 days out of the camper in November, which means we avoided campsite expenses. A few of these days were spent with a friend in Rhode Island, and the rest were spent living with the relatives during Thanksgiving. This led to other higher bills I’ll discuss in a bit, but overall it still saved us money.

I was actually surprised to see how low our gas expense was because we traveled a lot. In order to celebrate Thanksgiving with both our families, we left the east coast and D.C. to drive nine hours to Louisville, drop off the camper, and then ten hours to Tulsa! We stayed there for a quick two nights before driving back to Louisville for the other Thanksgiving. It was awesome to catch up with both families, but man did we spend a lot of time in the car.

The Bad

There weren’t any crazy bills like the $3k transfer case from October, but there were a lot of smaller cuts that added up. Lucy’s food is really dang expensive because she needs an allergy free prescription diet that costs $5/day, but we’re trying to work her off that. I was also wrong last month when I thought our utility bills would end with our house – apparently, most of the bills were paid the month after!

Big cities are also just expensive to get through, like the $16 toll bridge in NYC. Actually, I think we were supposed to pay more because we were pulling Penny Lane, but when I asked the attendant how much, he said “$16” which was listed as the car fee. I waited for a second a bit confused, but then handed him the exact amount. As we pulled out, we heard and felt a “bang, bang bang” on the side of the camper and the toll booth worker was trying to get us to stop! We already had Penny Lane rolling and there was no way I’d be able to back up, so we took our chances and rolled on. Hopefully we won’t get a ticket in the mail, but I think it should be in his job requirements to look at the car coming through to verify axles!

The Ugly

The ugly this month was also some of the best. We spent four nights in NYC at an incredible location in Jersey City that easily got us to Manhattan, but it was $95/night to stay there! It was really cool because we could literally see the Statue of Liberty from our camper on one side, and then the New York skyline on the other. It was pretty magical to walk Lucy through the Liberty State Park 25 minutes from the camper, and stand on the boardwalk to see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty just beyond us.

We also met up with friends in NYC and enjoyed the local cuisine, including some delicious Thai food at Uncle Boon’s and an Oklahoma State football watch party at Stillwater Bar (if you know anything about OSU, you know the significance of that). Our friends in DC actually paid for our dinner, which is nice on the budget, but always makes us feel bad because we live in a camper and people think we can’t pay for our own meals! But we definitely appreciate it and will pay it forward.

In conclusion, we pretty much knew an expensive month was coming with our east coast “big cities” trip. Hopefully, we can moderate our spending in the next few months as we head west and find cheaper places. My parents spent 5 weeks out west in October where they had $15/night campgrounds that included hook-ups, much cheaper than what we’ve experienced. We’ve enjoyed the east coast so far, but we’re excited to move west and try to bring out total spending back down.

More pics around NYC - the bottom two showing love flowing in Central Park!

More pics around NYC – the bottom two showing love flowing in Central Park!

 

Some of Jocelyn's cool pics around DC

Some of Jocelyn’s cool pics around DC

 

This was hiking in Shenandoah National Park in November... which was very cold! The bottom right picture shows the full force of the winter winds.

This was hiking in Shenandoah National Park in November… which was very cold! The bottom right picture shows the full force of the winter winds.

 

Some more of Jocelyn's pictures showing winter in Shenandoah

Some more of Jocelyn’s pictures showing winter in Shenandoah

Washington D.C. has always been high on my list of places to visit, but for whatever reason, I had yet to make it. Maybe it’s because I always wanted to make the first time “special” and attend during the cherry blossom festival, or maybe it was just destined to be one of those places I never visited. But that all changed with this road trip.

After New York City, we drove Penny Lane south into the Beltway of Washington D.C. and parked it in the National Beltway campground at $16/night. Jocelyn scored big time with this find because it’s only 12 miles from D.C. and it’s really cheap!! It was a nice reprieve after paying over $90/night in NYC.

It also made a great base to explore D.C. and the surrounding area. We arrived on Sunday and rested for the day before a very busy week ahead. Actually, we hiked with Lucy first because we knew she would have a lot of “camper time” in the upcoming week as we explored the city. That’s the tough part of city exploring – leaving her in the camper.

Monday morning started and we were off to D.C as we took the train to the National Mall. I was excited to see all of the federal buildings surrounding the epicenter of our country’s rich history. You look down one side and see the Capitol, as your eyes circle to the other side, you see the massive Smithsonian museums which enshrine some of America’s and the world’s most important possessions, and then you see the Washington Memorial on the other side.

Jocelyn let me have the first pick of museums as it was my first time, so we headed through the National Mall to the Museum of the American Indian. As you’ll see as we head west, I have a healthy obsession with the Native American culture and love to read about it, so it was an easy first pick. The museum is the closet museum to the Capitol… one of the few times Native Americans have received the prime land.

There were three floors that portrayed various stories of American Indians – from the Incas in South America to the Intuits in Alaska. We started at a photo exhibit on the second floor from a Kiowa in Oklahoma named Horace Poolaw. Poolaw started taking pictures in the late 1920’s and wanted them to have the same quality as the Time Life photos, although he had very little money. His goal was to show the way Native Americans really lived, somewhat sandwiched between their traditional way of life and the encroaching modern way of life, unlike the other photographers of the time who only wanted them to dress up in their traditional wears because that’s what people romanticized. Like many artists, Poolaw died relatively unknown and poor, only later to have his incredible work become known.

The top picture is of the National Museum of the American Indian, the bottom pic is by Horace Poolaw

The top picture is of the National Museum of the American Indian, the bottom pic is by Horace Poolaw

We went on to tour the third floor which had 6-8 different exhibits of different tribes in the Americas. It explained some of their traditions and way of life along with a few artifacts or pieces of clothes. The other exhibit got a little more into how their way of life changed after the arrival of the Europeans and touched some specific examples of broken treaties and stolen lands.

While I was excited to visit the museum, I left feeling a little disappointed. Maybe it was because I had it built up in my own mind, or because I’ve read quite a bit on Native Americans, but I feel like they’ve missed out on a lot with the museum. It was a little too vanilla as they attempted to cover too many tribes without really bringing any to life. I didn’t feel there was much pride to be felt if you were a Native American touring the exhibit… nothing on the great war leaders Crazy Horse or Geronimo and their honorable way of living, no major historic pieces, and no major effort to catalog the genocide that occurred.

As the sun was setting, we walked down the mall towards the Washington Memorial to enjoy a beautiful sunset. It was a good time to reflect on the true history of the United States and the land we occupied, but also to be very amazed and proud of the Republic that was built. This day was a perfect lead in to what was coming next – a tour of Mt. Vernon.

I’ve mentioned that you should be careful on what you offer because someone might just take you up on it… and our Mt. Vernon experience was made because of one of these kind offers. A former co-worker previously mentioned that her mom was the Curator of the Mt. Vernon estate and that she could give us a private tour. So as we approached D.C., you better believe I took her up on that!

We arrived and toured the grounds before our 1pm private tour. The museum does a great job of being honest with the fact that while Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate was magnificent, it wouldn’t have been possible without the 300+ slaves who were forced to work there. As we walked up to the house there were numerous guides directing us to the line where the tours started, until we politely told them we were touring with Susan (my friend’s mom). Once they heard that, they treated us like royalty so we knew we scored! Susan arrived shortly after and toured us through the house, including the basement and the upstairs. They strive for historical accuracy and it was amazing to see the lengths they go to make it happen. In one room they found a small scrap of wallpaper behind the mantle that they traced through the original order to the French manufacturer who originally made it. The company found it in their archives and made some more just for the house! We felt very fortunate to receive our private tour and we were amazed with Susan’s knowledge.

As for General Washington, in my mind, he doesn’t get as much credit for the founding of our country as he deserves. Not only because he won us the war of Independence with his bravery and strategy, but also because he knew when to step down and let the Democratic Republic take shape. One story said his troops offered to march into Philadelphia which housed the Continental Congress and overthrow them to make Washington the King. He objected and saved the Republic.

Our remaining three days were spent touring D.C., and it turns out that wasn’t nearly enough time! By the end, we were quickly rushing into museums to make sure we saw the “biggest pieces” before heading out. While I enjoyed all of the museums, I thought the National Archives were quite special because they house the original Constitution and Bill of Rights. Jocelyn really enjoyed the “Newseum” which is just that – the news museum. We spent our final night dining out with friends and hearing about their experiences with the city. While being a tourist is fun, I feel the experience is never complete until you see the city through the eyes of a local.

The bottom picture is from the Berlin Wall exhibit in the Newseum; top pictures are from various other museums

The bottom picture is from the Berlin Wall exhibit in the Newseum; top pictures are from various other museums

Mt. Vernon pictures

Mt. Vernon pictures

national-mall

If you can read this, you’re part of the select few in the world who was born into a good deal. It means you probably have working electricity and internet, enjoy enough freedom of speech to read crazy blogs, and are allowed opportunities to make money and move ahead in life. You won the birth lottery!

Winning the birth lottery does not guarantee you success or riches, but it does give you a ticket to the dance. If you’re reading this from the US or a western European country, you’re one of the luckier birth lottery winners as you enjoy a higher level of freedom and education than most other countries.

However, there are some clear losers in the birth lottery. If you’re born into a country led by dictators like North Korea, you’re probably on this unlucky list. If you’re born into the poor mountain tribes of Laos, like the beautiful little girl we saw hopping on a river barge with her father to go sell produce, you’re probably also on the losing side. She will hopefully have a great life, but her lack of access to education and basic health care will present some major hurdles.

Most people are born without much of a chance in life to advance beyond basic survival. Nearly half of the world lives in poverty, which means less than $2.5 per day. This is not because they’re savages with lower intellects, but instead they just didn’t win the birth lottery. They were born into countries and conditions where basic survival was the highest aspiration and intellectual enhancement was an afterthought. They definitely didn’t choose this just as I didn’t choose to be born in the US.

Unfortunately, we even have the birth lottery divide within the US. We saw it in New Orleans where a child born into the lower 9th ward (usually minority) is going to have a much harder chance of making it than a child born into a well off family and sent to private school. Is it because the poor kid is dumb and success to him looks like a drug dealer who has a nice car because that’s his only example?

Examples reside along racial boundaries as well as basic socioeconomic differences. I went to a small high school in Oklahoma where roughly 25-35% of the students went to college. I have a friend from the northeast whose class went to college at a ~95% rate and most of them went to Ivy League schools! They were raised from the beginning knowing they were expected to go to college and they were given the support required, but most of the kids in my school weren’t.

You can also look at other minority groups such as Native Americans. I can’t speak with as much experience with the reservations as I’ve only been through them a few times, but many of them live in similar conditions to third world countries. They’re born on the batter’s deck while others are born on second or third base. The birth lottery can be dissected even further by health, natural intelligence and/or ambition, stable family atmospheres or other opportunities.

I can’t stand it when people look down on others who weren’t born into as fortunate circumstance as them. They’ll usually assume all things are equal and say those people are lazy because they didn’t have the drive to go to college or don’t want to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and would rather live off of government assistance. That might be the case for some people, but more often that not, it’s due to the circumstance they were born into.

Believe it or not, this is more than a rant. This is a note to whoever needs it, including myself. The world is not an equal place and as we’ve seen over the last few months, we’re as divided as ever. However, this division should not make us forget that while we might be “created equal”,  we aren’t born equal, and we don’t get to choose where we start. There are longstanding belief systems in place that shape our thoughts and identities. There are socioeconomic barriers in place that mean we all start on different levels.

This also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take advantage of the opportunities you’re born into. Just because I was born in the US to great parents who raised me well, doesn’t mean I’m moving to Myanmar to live in poverty out of my own guilt. No, it means I need to start at my level and continue to grow, to continue to take advantage of the opportunities offered to me – which as a college educated white male are already many levels higher than others.

Kids watching our "slow boat" pass on the Mekong

Kids watching our “slow boat” pass on the Mekong River in Laos.