It’s official, We have finally reached the 100-day mark of our trip and full-time travel lifestyle. It’s been an incredible adventure, and we’re only halfway! In the last 100 days, we have been to 9 states, experienced 12 National Parks, visited multiple friends and family members, driven almost 10,000 miles, and even taken side trips to Puerto Rico and Mexico (although this one was really just a day trip where I paid a man to row me across the Rio Grande into Mexico in a rowboat, anyway that is a story for another day. Yes, it was legal). We’ve learned a lot along the way about continuous travel, budgeting for inflation and gas prices, and slowing down to make travel sustainable without burning out. Here are some of the things we have learned so far:
Places We’ve Been
- New Mexico
- Big Bend, TX
- Guadalupe Mountains, TX
- Carlsbad Caverns, NM
- White Sands, NM
- Grand Canyon, AZ
- Petrified Forest, AZ
- Joshua Tree, CA
- Channel Islands, CA
- Sequoia, CA
- Kings Canyon, CA
- Death Valley, CA
- Yosemite, CA
- Puerto Rico
- Boquillas Del Carmen, Mexico
Some Cool Things We’ve Been Able To Do
- Kayaked through sea caves in the Channel Islands
- Enjoyed Mardis Gras Parades and Festivities in New Orleans
- Eaten GIANT stuffed turkey legs at the famous “Turkey Leg Hut” in Houston
- Eaten at the famous Terry Blacks Barbeque in Austin
- Crossed the Mexican Border by rowboat (again, 100% legally)
- Gone Sandboarding in White Sands National Park
- Visited the Out of Africa rescue park near Sedona and got an up-close and personal tour with the white rhino (Thanks to my good friend Cricket).
- Taken more milky way photos than we can count
- Hiked in the famous “Antelope Canyon” in Arizona
- Relaxed and enjoyed the view of the Grand Canyon
- Seen the world’s biggest tree: The General Sherman
- Seen the world’s oldest living tree: The Methuselah Tree (well sort of, we think we found it, but its location is officially hidden for safety)
- Hiked up to an alpine lake near Mount Whitney
Things We’ve Learned
There are a lot of things that we’ve learned while being on the road. Some of them specifically have to do with living in and towing a small travel trailer, and others about just traveling full-time in general. Either way, I figured that I would share them with you all to give you a glimpse into our current way of life. The last two are the craziest to me.
- Boondocking– We absolutely adore boondocking. If you don’t know what boondocking is, it is essentially legal “free camping.” Boondocking can look like anything from staying on national forest lands to sleeping in a Walmart parking lot. Each type of boondocking location has its own stay requirements that range from one night to fourteen nights on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. There are a ton of boondocking locations all across the United States, we almost never had to pay for a campsite driving from Florida to Arizona unless we had a specific need for electricity. However, once we entered California, there have been little to no boondocking locations (outside of the desert). Due to anti-homelessness and anti-squatting laws, boondocking regularly is near-impossible on the West coast, which is a huge bummer to our lifestyle and our budget.
- Traveling is a full-time job in and of itself– Honestly, this absolutely would not be possible if Eric and I were both working full-time. Traveling takes a lot of time and energy and regularly conflicts with a work schedule. If we were both working full-time, we would likely stay at one campsite for an entire month before moving to the next to make it feasible. As it stands now, we move a lot to be able to see as much as we can. Some places are only a quick stop along the way and others (like Sequoia or Yosemite) we spend an whole week visiting. Most travel days are LONG. We have a method to make it work though, Eric works and makes his meetings and I drive. When we arrive at a place, I take care of the dog, do the laundry, cook, grocery shop (every two days since our fridge is so small), gas up the car, plan our hikes, plan our routes, book our campsites, pay our bills, check weather reports, etc. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to the point where I am working almost as much as Eric is and I only officially work part-time running my business. Having only one of us working full-time has made this possible.
- Road conditions are vitally important– After taking our trailer up and down more mountain roads than I would like to admit, we have realized that route planning is essential to traveling with a trailer or RV. Some routes are just absolutely not suitable or safe for us to travel. Whenever we leave a location to head to the next, I have to check route conditions, weather (to make sure it’s not too windy), and go on forums to decide whether or not our trailer is safe to take into an area, especially in the mountains.
- Not every national park is a good national park– I think some people may fight me on this one, but I adamantly believe that not all National Parks deserve their honorary status and there are definitely some amazing state parks that could take their place. Guadalupe Mountains National Park is an example of a useless national park that was likely only created for political reasons.
- We lost weight- At the beginning of our adventure, we made the decision to eat out as little as possible on our trip. We knew that we would be spending long hours in the car and that regular fast food would simply make us sick which would be an awful experience while sitting in the car for hours. Because of this, we have switched to a regular schedule of cooking all of our own meals. We went from eating out multiple times a week to eating out about once every week and a half as a treat or when we have run out of food to eat on a travel day and don’t have a nearby grocery store. Between this and the lack of stress (I had pretty severe stomach problems from stress when teaching), I’ve actually lost enough weight that I had to buy new pants. Eric lost some initially as well. Now that this is our normal lifestyle, we’ve evened out though and I doubt we’ll be losing much more since my cooking is improving.
- We are actually saving money– This is the craziest thing of all to me. We are actually putting money into savings each month! I honestly couldn’t believe it when we were paying bills during the first few months. The reality was that we had a bit of extra money each month that we are able to set aside for the future on top of our retirement investments. This isn’t because we are making more money than before we left, this is actually simply because we are spending LESS. Even with gas prices going up, we are able to save money in the following ways: not eating out has saved us a TON of money on food costs even with the rise in groceries, free camping means that we are not paying for a place to stay for a lot of our nights (and we are renting our tiny house out so that covers our rent at home), and we simply cannot shop. We don’t have any more room in our trailer to buy anything. There’s no such thing as random Amazon purchases or impulse buys from sales. I can’t buy new clothes because I already don’t have room for what I brought. Forced minimalism has saved us a ton of money.
The Not-So Glamorous Side of Things
While full-time travel is absolutely incredible and life is honestly amazing, there are some not-so-great things that come with our current lifestyle.
- The Black Tank– If you have never spent a lot of time in an RV or a travel trailer, there is this lovely little thing called a “Black Tank.” To keep matters short, it is the tank that collects everything from your toilet. You have to dump this tank regularly, and it is disgusting. If you don’t put treatments in it regularly, there is what is colloquially known in the RV community as a “Poop Mountain” that forms at the bottom and will not flush out. If said mountain forms, your house smells like the mountain. This is a regular chore to keep your house from being unlivable due to smell.
- Gas prices– Even though I said that we are saving money, now that we have gotten to California and gas prices continue to rise, that savings has been cut in half. It’s hard to fill up the tank of my fuel-efficient Subaru and see it cost more than $100. It’s even harder knowing that we get 26 miles per gallon when we aren’t driving the trailer and 11-15mpg when we do.
- Running out of water- Because we boondock regularly, we are self-reliant for water, power, and sewage. While we have a 38-gallon freshwater tank, we basically only get four QUICK showers (two each) and a couple of days of dishes before we run out or max out our grey tank (which collects all non-toilet used water). This means that if we don’t actively conserve water, we could run out. This is especially true when we are in the desert areas like Big Bend, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, and the Alabama Hills. We have to regularly choose between doing dishes so that we have plates to eat on or taking a shower because we have a few days before we can refill our water and dump our tanks. It’s not always so glamorous.
- Traveling With a Dog– Xena is an amazing travel dog. She adores car rides and spends her time sleeping and looking out the window. She’s also a great hiking dog and comes with us on as many hikes as we are allowed to take her on. We have a designated bed for her in the trailer so that she has a place to call her own (even though she sleeps with us), and have outfitted a few other things to be better for her. However, traveling with a dog is not always easy. One day she got sick in the car and had explosive sickness all over everything; that was not fun. Also, there are plenty of national parks that don’t allow dogs on trails at all. This means that either Eric and I take turns hiking shorter trails while one person sits in the car working or playing on the computer, we find a Rover for Xena, or we skip out completely on longer hikes.
Mistakes We’ve Made
- Landlording is harder than expected, especially when you aren’t around– This is our first time renting out our tiny house (which is our baby since we built it ourselves), and it’s been more complicated than we expected! Our hot water broke in our shower and we’ve had to rely on some awesome friends and neighbors to help us fix it after a horrible experience with a plumber. In the future, we’d find someone to pay to manage our property while we are away in case of issues like this.
- We brought too much stuff– I don’t need half of the clothes that I brought. I actually plan on bringing stuff back to leave in Florida when I fly home for the 4th of July. I can’t stand how “full” our trailer feels, and living with so few items is honestly incredibly freeing. I brought way too much stuff with me.
- Our trailer caught on fire– This one is kind of a big one, we almost lost everything. We were driving through the mountains heading into San Diego when a few semi-trucks started honking at us (thank goodness). We pulled off at the next exit thinking that something was hanging loose in our trailer, but as we were pulling off, a man rolled down his window and yelled “Your wheel is on fire!” We immediately pulled off the side of the road and grabbed the fire extinguisher from inside the trailer. Eric put the fire out but our wheel was ruined and immobile. Once the fire was out, I ran inside and grabbed our essential items and food for Xena because we had no idea if our trailer was going to be fixable or not. The axle had been damaged by the fire, so we really didn’t know what to expect when it came to repair times. The short version of what happened is that our wheel bearing seized up and the friction caused the fire. There was little we could have done to prevent it, but we are lucky that people on the road made us aware in time. The fire was on the same side of our trailer as the propane line so it could have all gone up in flames. Everyone has told us that usually people don’t catch it in time to put it out. We were very lucky.
- The United States is huge and 7 months of travel is simply not enough to see it all- This one I feel like I should have recognized before, but I definitely know it now. It is impossible to see and REALLY experience everything the United States has to offer in under a year. It could take a lifetime. I never expected us to see it all, but even trying to see a lot of it at once has been exhausting. I think there is a good chance that Eric and I hit the road again in the coming years.
- Mining still takes place in national parks– One specific example is Death Valley National Park. It’s so messed up and it’s on my list of things to email our congresspeople about. I have an email drafted to send to NPR to suggest a segment on it.
Where We Are Going Next
We are currently finishing up our time in California and are headed up the coast to Oregon, Washington, and then to Canada. We hope to hit Banff, Yoho, Kootenai, and Jasper National Parks in Canada.
Anyway, that’s our update! We’ll update you after the trip is done with everything that we’ve learned.
Thank you Shannon for a great read on your travels. The good, the bad, and the ugly. All so very interesting and informative. You two capture so much in your photography also. If you come our way in your travels, stop for a few days of inside living and some R&R. Wishing you, Eric, and Xena continued safe and healthy travels with amazing experiences.
Thank you! I will reach out if we are driving by! 🙂
Love following your adventures. We traveled full time in an RV 1990 through 1992 and again 2012-2016. Had to stop for health reasons, but we love adventuring. I’m a friend of your dad, Shannon, and he often shares your adventures. I wrote several books as we traveled.
That’s awesome! RV life is definitely unique, but we love being nomads!