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It has been a about a year since our last post to the blog.  It is amazing how time flies.  Well, I will start by giving a quick overview of what we have been doing since the last post in March of 2010.

After leaving Slab City, CA we spent about 2 weeks in the San Diego area doing sightseeing and visiting Legoland with the kids.  We then went to the desert to relax in the warm weather of Desert Hot Springs, CA.  We stayed about 2 weeks there and visited Joshua Tree National Park for a couple days.  We were happy to spent some time with the Valentine family during our stay.  After leaving the Palm Springs area we drove to Williams, AZ which is one of the closest campgrounds to the Grand Canyon.  We spent most of that time working but did make a quick visit over to the canyon for one day.  We left Williams and then went to the Sedona, AZ area where we stayed for about two weeks visiting several state parks and National Monuments.  We then left the Sedona area and went to stay on the rim of the Grand Canyon where we would be close to the canyon to do more sightseeing.  We stayed on the rim of the canyon for about 4 nights.

While at the Grand Canyon we made the unexpected decision to head to Las Vegas to the National Hardware Show.  So we headed towards Vegas making a stop first for a few days in Bullhead City, AZ.  We then headed to Las Vegas crossing over the Hover Dam along the way.  We stayed at the KOA campground at Circus Circus which is right on the strip.  We had a great time at the Hardware Show and the kids had an even better time getting candy and free stuff from the vendors.  As for Vegas itself, well, it is not a place for kids so we were pretty glad to leave as we felt the kids had seen enough “trash”.

We left Vegas and headed to St. George, UT to visit Zion National Park.  While there we visited Zion NP for one day and then made the sudden decision that we needed to end our journey for a while.  I believe Polly and I had both been thinking about it for a short while but one day we started talking and realized that the timing was right to end the journey for now.  We knew that we would never be able to finish the rest of the US as we still had a lot left to do and see.  We also knew that our business needed our attention and we needed to head back to be able to spend quality time with it.  Also, unless you have ever traveled for a long time you may not realize just how tiring it is.  We really just wanted to stay still for a while and rest with no planning to worry about.  We then turned the motorhome east and drove for three and a half days from UT back to NC.

After being on the road for almost a year it was nice to get back home and slow down.  We spent the next several months doing the basic stuff that most everyone else does.  We have continued to home school the kids and they have been much more involved in our church youth programs.  The problem is that once you have entered into the RV lifestyle it is really hard to leave it for very long.  After a few months back we started to get the itch to leave again.  We knew that Zachary, 12,  was starting to get to the age that he would not want to go anywhere.  We also never finished the North West part of the country.

Well, to make a long story short, we sat down as a family a few weeks ago and after we where done we had made the decision to start traveling again in June.  Life is short and while it is easy to live life doing the same thing everyday it just isn’t for us.  We are not promised tomorrow and retirement may never come. Our kids are getting older and the memories we are creating will last forever.  So the end of May we are taking my mom to the beach and as soon as we get back we are heading west to try and complete the US.  We are leaving our return date completely open so we are not rushed and will simply come back when we either get tired or complete everything.  We learned a lot from the last time and hope to use that knowledge to make this journey even more enjoyable.

We will try to blog about our travels and would love to hear from all our friends.  If you are currently on the road or even considering it we look forward in hearing from you.

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Probably the number one question people think of, but are afraid to ask, is what does traveling full time cost.  Some people believe we won the lottery or are simply rich.  The reality is we are NOT rich nor have we won the lottery (would be nice though).  Our lifestyle is achieved by trading the cost of typical living expenses (stick/brick home) with on the road living expenses.  In this post I will try to give some details of what it cost to live on the road and how you may find that it could actually be less than your paying now.  Of course, expenses on the road depend on all kinds of variables.  While one family could spend $100K per year on the road another family could do it for $20K.  It all depends on how you budget and lifestyle.

Before we left we did a complete budget to estimate what living this way would cost. I highly recommend this to anyone considering this lifestyle.  We are very fortunate to have a small business that allows us to work remotely.  But many people choose to do this on their savings.  Either way, do a budget and research all the expenses.

RV Expense

One of the biggest expenses in traveling will be the RV you live in.  You can travel in a travel trailer costing $10K or a Prevost bus costing over $1M.  It all depends on the space you need and what you can afford.  If you finance say an RV costing $35K your payment over 15 years would be about $280/month.  Add a truck payment of a couple hundred a month and you would still have about a third of what a typical house payment is.  If you do as we did and sell your stick and brick house then you might be able to purchase the RV and truck ( or motorhome) and have no monthly expense for housing.  Remember that RV’s depreciate rapidly so keep that in mind if you are not intending on keeping if for many years. The rule of thumb is that they lose half their value in the first 5 years.  So purchasing used is always a good idea.

So as for your housing it is very much dependent on what you want to live in.  Just remember that your only looking at 200-400 sq. ft. which for us is just perfect and part of the reason we sold our home.

Campground Fees

When you own a normal home you have water, sewer, electric, cable/satellite and other monthly bills.  When traveling full time you exchange most of these bills for campground fees.  Now here is where you really have to make decisions on how much you can afford to spend.  We have paid as little as $0/night (my mom’s driveway or Wal-Mart) to $118/night in Key West, FL.  The average is around $35 – $45/night if you stay in a campground with amenities.  If you stay weekly, monthly or seasonal you can save a lot more.  In the off season you can usually stay for less as the campgrounds are not very busy.  For example, the campground we stayed at in New Hampshire we paid $190/week ($27/night) in peak season.  In the winter and fall in Asheville we were paying around $500/month ($17/night) in the campground we were at. If you work hard you can find places to dry camp for free or find discounted State/National Parks to camp at.  I know of one family that travels and hardly never pay for campground fees. Most campgrounds will charge more if they have amenities like cable, pool, internet, lake or mountain views, etc.

We have recently purchased a couple campground memberships which have greatly reduced our camping expense.  We can now stay in nice RV resorts around the country for $10/night or $70/week.  Over a month that is only $280/month.  Less if you throw in a few free Wal-Mart nights.

We are currently trying to average under $20/night for our campsite.  In the summer we will pay more but make up for it in the off season.  This will normally average more than your home utilities but you are making up some by not having the house payment.  Plus you get different neighbors and backyard whenever you want it. Don’t forget no grass to mow, large home to clean and all the other things it takes to manage a typical home.

Fuel Expense

Once again this depends on how you are going to travel. If you move a large motorhome every few days it will cost more than if you sit in the same spot for weeks or months at a time.  We typically move every week but do not move far.  Our fuel expense has been way below what we had budgeted so far.  This will probably change as we move west were things are a little farther apart.  With a motorhome expect about 6-8 miles/gallon and 8-12 miles/gallon if you are towing with a truck.  As of the writing of this post fuel is about $2.60/gallon. We get around 8 miles/gallon so every 8 miles cost us $2.60.  Last year when fuel was $4-$5/gallon most people were staying in one place longer than they normally would have.

The fuel usage for your toad or towing vehicle will depend on how much sightseeing you are doing.  We are actually using less fuel now because we are not driving two cars everyday to work as we were before.

Food and Sightseeing

The one place that will kill your budget is eating out.  We were actually very bad for this before leaving on this journey.  We knew we could not do this while on the road.  Therefore, we have a dining out budget that we try to stick to pretty close.  If we are out of budget we will be eating sandwiches.  We also try not to eat at chain restaurants and stick with local places.  We also save a lot of money by not ordering drinks in restaurants.  This saves us around $8/meal since many places are charging over $2/drink now (even for kids).

When you travel to tourist areas everybody is trying to make a buck.  When you are on vacation you just pay for the overpriced admission and expensive snacks.  We typically pass on all this stuff.  We don’t do theme parks or anything close to them.  We look for free parks, bike trails, swimming holes, free museums, etc. If there is an admission we think really hard about if it is worth it or not.  We are currently way below our sightseeing budget which is very good.  Believe it or not the kids have been fine with not hitting all the big tourist areas.  A pool and playground and they are happy.  Also for $80/year you get access to all the National Parks for free.  You could spend an entire year doing nothing but them.

The Other Stuff

There are always other stuff that you have to pay for.  Medical expenses, RV and auto maintenance, mobile phones, propane (mainly in winter), taxes, etc.  Most of these are just facts of life and will be paid for no matter where you live.  All these things we have in our budget and track monthly.

The Bottom Line

The reality is that this is not a lifestyle that people do forever.  Most people find that it can be cheaper but then others spend more as they are in “vacation mode” and spend money freely.  The memories and adventure that is created in my opinion is worth a little more if one can afford.  We are finding this way of living to be less than we were spending before. We had never had a budget before doing this so we are much better managers of our money and where it goes.  Imagine all the trips to Target or Wal-Mart and buying “stuff” you don’t need.  We can’t do that now because we have no where to put it.  We eat out less and we waste very little in uneaten groceries. We don’t buy many new clothes because there is no room. The kids don’t get new toys as there is nowhere to put them.  Our kids have made an amazing transformation in the fact they now value every penny they have.  They have become savers instead of spenders.  If they have 50 cents in their pockets they refuse to spend it even on candy.  We have been very impressed seeing how the materialistic values they had have gone.  We discuss money and how to spend it every day so the kids have learned that if we do one thing we can’t do another.

If you ever had an interest in this lifestyle then all you need to do is sit down and crunch the numbers to see if you can make it work.  If you can’t make it work now then you may be able to in a few years with some planning.

I hope this has explained a little more of the finances of traveling.  If you have any questions let us know.  Remember life is short, follow your dreams.

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Our original plan was to leave Casa Grande, AZ and dry camp the night in Slab City where we were going to meet the Bogers family. Well they had RV problems so we had to change plans a few times. We started out in a Casino parking lot in Maricopa, AZ on Saturday night. About mid afternoon we got a message from the Bogers that they could make it to Slab City on Sunday morning. We were about 5 hours away so we either had to leave immediately and drive at night or leave early in the AM. We decided to leave then and drive to CA to get a little closer. We ended up getting to the Yuma, AZ area and staying in another Casino parking lot for the night. That put us only about 2 hours away from Slab City where we went first thing.

We had heard a lot about Slab City over the past year and really wanted to visit the area. Slab City is a camp in the Colorado Desert in southeastern California, used by recreational vehicle owners and squatters from across North America. It takes its name from the concrete slabs and pylons that remain from the abandoned World War II base Marine Barracks Camp Dunlap there. A group of servicemen remained after the base closed, and the place has been inhabited ever since, although the number of residents has declined since the mid 1980s.

Several thousand campers, many of them retired, use the site during the winter months. These “snowbirds” stay only for the winter, before migrating north in the spring to cooler climate. The temperatures during the summer are unforgiving; nonetheless, there is a group of around 150 permanent residents who live in the Slabs all year round. Most of these “Slabbers” subsist on government checks (SSI and Social Security) and have been driven to the Slabs through poverty; some of the “slabbers” also have a strong desire for freedom from the American government.

The site is both decommissioned and uncontrolled, and there is no charge for parking. The camp has no electricity, no running water or other services. Many campers use generators or solar panels to generate electricity. There is a library, church, and entertainment stage.

One of the biggest attractions at Slab City is Salvation Mountain created by Leonard Knight. The mountain is 50 feet tall and 150 feet wide and made of adobe clay. Leonard’s intent was to spend a couple days and create a small monument to show his love for God but it turned into something much larger. You really must visit the official website and read the inspiring story of Leonard Knight and his love for God and to tell the world that “God is Love”. We had the great pleasure of having Leonard give us a personal tour of his mountain. You can tell he is so excited to share his creation. Leonard lives in front of the mountain in an old truck (see pictures below). He has lived there for 29 years with no electric, running water, sewer or anything. He works on the mountain everyday but is happy to stop to give you a tour. He says his favorite thing is talking to people and having them take pictures. It is estimated that he has put over 100,000 gallons of paint on the mountain.

I left Salvation Mountain inspired to determine what my passion in life is. Slab City is one of those places where you don’t really want to live but you admire the people that do. It is a simple, cheap life where you are not faced with many of the worlds issues. I hope to revisit Slab City in the future and actually get to camp a few days.  Thanks again for the Bogers for meeting us there!

Our next stop is Julian, CA for a week and get ready for some activities in the San Diego area.  We took a ton of pictures and you can see some below!

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After leaving Tucson we stopped off near Casa Grande, AZ to visit the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  The Casa Grande ruins is what is left of the ancient Sonoran Desert people.  The date at which their village was created is unknown but is thought to have been occupied for possibly a thousand years. The Casa Grande was abandoned around 1450 C.E. Since the ancient Sonoran Desert people who built it left no written language behind, written historic accounts of the Casa Grande begin with the journal entries of Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino when he visited the ruins in 1694. In his description of the large ancient structure before him, he wrote the words “casa grande” (or “great house”) which are still used today. More became known about the ruins with the later visits of Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza’s expedition in 1775 and Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny’s military detachment in 1846. Subsequent articles written about the Casa Grande increased public interest. During the 1860’s through the 1880’s more people began to visit the ruins with the arrival of a railroad line twenty miles to the west and a connecting stagecoach route that ran right by the Casa Grande. The resulting damage from souvenir hunting, graffiti and outright vandalism raised serious concerns about the preservation of the Casa Grande.  It later became a part of the National Park system to help preserve the remaining structure.

While walking around the ruins you have to imagine the hard life these people led.  They had massive farming in the area and had long, long trenches for irrigation.  We were told they did not have any metal tools.  It is also believed they didn’t have the wheel either so everything was done by hand.  I don’t think most people can imagine that there were complete active communities in the US so far back.  There are a lot of these types of National Monuments out west and we hope to hit more of them.

We stayed here a few hours before heading south of Phoenix to Carrabbas for a late Valentine’s dinner.  We only stayed 2 nights in the area so there wasn’t much time for anything else.

Next stop will be Slab City and Salvation Mountain in CA.

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After leaving Alamogordo, NM we headed to AZ and the Tucson area. We stayed in a campground in St. David for about a week.  It is another campground part of our membership.  About an hour from Tucson but for $10/night I don’t mind driving a little.

Our first destination was the town of Tombstone, AZ.  Tombstone is an old wild west mining town that makes you feel like you are back in the days of lawlessness and old movies.  You have probably heard of the “O.K. Corral”, “The Bird Cage Theatre”, “Wyatt Earp”, “Doc Holliday” just to name a few.  You can read the entire history at this site.  For the most part it is just a tourist trap.  We only spent about 2 hours here and since we don’t spend money on tourist stuff much there really wasn’t a lot to do.  I wouldn’t make a special trip here but if you are in the area it is a neat place to walk around for a few hours.

We only took one day and went into Tucson.  In Tucson we walked the historic walking trail to see some of the sites.  Tucson is such a beautiful area with all the brightly colored homes.  I think Polly and I have decided we would like to have one of these one day.  For lunch we ate at the El Charro Café which claims to be the birth place of the Chimichanga which is my favorite Mexican dish.  The Legendary Monica Flin, who opened her El Charro Café in 1922, is well‐known as the originator of the Chimichanga. While frying her now famous El Charro ground beef tacos, she accidentally dropped a burro into the frying pan and when the oil splashed up she was about to lash out a common Spanish cuss word starting with “Ch”, but because she was amongst her young nieces and nephews, changed it to “Chimichanga”, the equivalent of “thingamajig”.  It was good but not quite as good as our old favorite Mexican place back home.

Our last stop was Saguaro National Park.  When you think of Arizona you think of the cactus.  The saguaro catus is the well know tall cactus with “arms” that you see in all the AZ brochures.  Since 1933 the saguaro cactus has been protected by the park.  The park is in the Sonoran Desert with temperatures commonly climbing above 100 degrees and gets less than 12” of rain a year.  Many of the saguaros can suck up as much as 200 gallons of water which is enough to last then an entire year.  Many of the saguaros we saw were over 150 years old.  Of course being from the east coast we had never seen real tall cacti like this so it was a treat.  While in the park we did about a 3.5 mile hike through the cacti (was suppose to be less but we missed a turn).  The kids also got their Junior Ranger badges.

Once again another great time.  The weather was mostly nice and certainly much better than NC.  We would certainly like to come back here again in the winter.

Next stop will be north of Tucson near the town of Casa Grande, AZ and the Case Grande Ruins.

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