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!

The first journey of our westwardly bound road trip took us south to find some warmer temperatures and hiking opportunities. We almost skipped Big Bend National Park because it was a little bit out of the way, but we decided not to because neither of us had been before. It’s a surprisingly mountainous landscape in an otherwise mostly flat to moderately hill-countried Texas. Although it can be a a long drive from most of the major Texas cities, it’s definitely worth the gas.

Big Bend’s wide open desert landscapes are only interrupted by the many seemingly barren mountains that frame it in. Not until you drive up the most popular area, Chisos Basin, do you realize there’s actually a wide variety of ecosystems in the park including forests, grassy meadows and even a spring-fed oasis. It’s the kind of variety that makes the many hikes in the park worth experiencing.

We ended up staying for eight days as we skipped between two somewhat developed campsites, and then spent three days in a back country site three miles down a gravel road! It was great to experience the quiet and secluded nature of the desert. Big Bend is known for its great stars and we got some dark and clear nights to enjoy them. Here’s our attempt to capture Penny Lane lit up with the stars! We saw a professional photographer do it, but his didn’t look like aliens were circling the camper.


Overall, we hiked 25+ miles, including a major 15 mile hike that included the tallest mountain in Big Bend, Emory Peak. The campsites only cost us $14/day and the back country only required a $12 permit which was good for up to two weeks, so the minimal budget impact made me quite happy!

Big Bend isn’t for everyone though. You need an adventurous spirit and a longing for the great outdoors to truly enjoy it. Even the “developed” campsites are pretty undeveloped as none of them include showers or electric, but you can pay to shower at a camp store close to one of the sites. Big Bend does have a pretty nice restaurant and lodge which includes hotel rooms and separate cabins and you can find wifi around the visitor centers.

After Big Bend, we headed east through one of the more scenic drives in the US, from Lajitas to Presidio in Texas. The drive starts at the ghost town of Lajitas and continues through the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road borders the Rio Grande River most of the way and takes you through the beautiful Chihuahua mountains with views of river meadows, tall mountains and little towns on both sides of the border along the way. Luckily, there was no big ugly wall to get in the way of the views.

Did you know there’s an artsy little town in the middle of nowhere, Texas? It’s called Marfa and it was once a sleepy little country town, but it’s been taken over by hipsters riding their street cruisers, wearing old-timey hats and just being artists. It apparently started thanks to a minimalist artist from the east coast who set up shop and set to transform the town. It’s actually quite a cool little town, but I’d consider it a detour rather than a destination.

The next destination was Guadalupe National Park on the eastern edge of Texas. The park includes the tallest mountain in Texas and portions of the largest fossilized permian reef, which is apparently the major reason why it’s a national park. We hiked up the tallest peak in the park, Guadalupe Peak which also happens to be the tallest mountain in Texas at over 8,700 feet! We were pretty surprised by the difficulty of the hike, which climbed 3,000 feet in 4.2 miles. It was a great hike and even included some snowy passages; it seemed much more like Colorado than Texas.

The main campsite is nothing more than a parking lot, but it’s cheap at $8/night and many of the major trail heads were just outside our door. It also provides for some good socializing because you can’t get away from anyone! We’ve also learned that many people are taking the same westwardly route as us, and we saw at least three groups who we also ran into at Big Bend. One afternoon seven of us met up for coffee and hung out for a few hours as the sunset. It was fun to trade stories, meet new friends and get tips on what to see next. To the west we go!

Here are some of our hiking videos:

 

and some more pictures:

Taking in the sunset in our backcountry site, Paint Gap 1

Taking in the sunset in our backcountry site, Paint Gap 1

View from the South Rim in Big Bend National Park

View from the South Rim in Big Bend National Park


All around Marfa!

Just when we nearly gave up hope on making it to Alaska because we’re spending too much, we met our $100/day goal in January! It was thanks to family who let us stick around longer than originally planned and let us “mooch-dock”, but as you’ll see below, they got a new bathroom out of it! January was a relaxing month with minimal exploring but lots of great family time, but we’re now headed west!

Total December Cost: $2,261
Total days in the camper: 7
Total days out of camper: 24
Cost per day: $73
States Visited: Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana
Total Miles: 2,152

Summary

We kept our January expenses down by staying close to home, or in my case, at my parents’ house! We planned to spend a few weeks in Oklahoma anyway, but we added another week to help them remodel and to cut down our costs. We’ve been spending way too much dang money and even though the stock market keeps going up and offsetting our extra spending, we can’t count on it forever. Here’s the breakdown:

january-spending-report

The Good

When you get a month under $100, there’s lots of good… when you get all the way down to $73/day, it’s even better! I can almost guarantee this will be our lowest monthly spending and when we account for our rental income, we won’t have to dip into our savings much at all to cover January.

The only reason we kept our spending so low is because we stayed with family for over three weeks. We didn’t plan to, but when we talked my parents into renovating their bathroom, we had to stick around to finish the job! I figured it would take 7-10 days, but it took two weeks thanks to some major plumbing work and lots of tiling. In return for our labor, my parents wouldn’t let us spend any money, so it really paid off! Here’s the final outcome, and I’ll add some more renovation pictures below:

Here's the mostly completed renovation! Jocelyn and my mom did the designing which turned out great.

Here’s the mostly completed renovation! Jocelyn and my mom did the designing which turned out great.

We also spent time with Jocelyn’s family around Oklahoma and they took care of us. I think everyone was afraid that if we spent too much money before our house lease was up in August, we might move back in with them later!

We made it back on the road for the last week in January and drove all the way down to Big Bend National Park in Texas. It’s the perfect time to visit because we avoided the 115 degree summers and instead enjoy 70 degree days and chilly desert nights. Bend National Park only costs $14/day in the campsites and $12 total for a back country permit that’s good for two weeks! We won’t stay that long, but we will get four cheap days out of it.

The Bad

As we head west, gas prices are already increasing. It’s still around $2/gallon in most of Texas, but we paid $2.75/gallon for one fill-up in Big Bend since it’s so remote. We talked to another camper who visited Canada and Alaska last summer and he said to expect a 75% budget increase for food and gas. Yikes! We’ll have to keep managing our budget closely the next few months by minimizing our miles, food costs and maximizing our cheap campground stays. It should be pretty easy through New Mexico and Arizona as they’re full of free Bureau of Land Management sites, but as we arrive in California by mid-March, we don’t expect to find the same.

The Ugly

Even with all of the support of family, our spending still felt higher than what it could’ve been. A big part of it is the regular bills which continue to stay quite high, but at this point, we’ll just have to adjust our monthly budget accordingly. I use the category as a catch all, but when you have things like cell phone bills, health insurance and other insurances, the total jumps up pretty quickly.

As if it wasn’t obvious enough, we’re excited to get back on the road and finally explore the west. Our last week in Big Bend has been everything we’ve hoped for – long hikes in beautiful desert landscapes, temperatures in the 70s, incredible night skies and cheaper accommodations. We even had an impromptu Airstream rally in Big Bend when 8 Airstreams just happened to park next to each other! Penny Lane was the oldest as the rest were all post-2005, so we had fun showing it off and dreaming over the newer and much more expensive Airstreams. Actually, I didn’t dream over it at all, I love the vintage look :).

I’ll probably write a dedicated Big Bend post with some of Jocelyn’s great pics, but here are a few I took:

A view of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

A view of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park is full of beautiful desert landscapes.

Big Bend National Park is full of beautiful desert landscapes.

 

We had to fully gut the bathroom! It took a lot of work from my dad and I, but with help from my mom and Jocelyn, we knocked it out!

We had to fully gut the bathroom! It took a lot of work from my dad and I, but with help from my mom and Jocelyn, we knocked it out!

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.