Family Vagabond Adventur
Navajo Bridge, Arizona
I opened the wooden door and stepped into the darkness. This wasn’t your typical darkness, this was real, middle of nowhere, not a city for hundreds of miles darkness. I looked up at the desert sky and the Milky Way showed itself like I have never seen it before. I literally could see every star in the galaxy! The feeling you get when you can see the sky the way our ancestors had seen it and even navigated by it. The wide expanse. The infinite reality of the universe. We’re talking monkeys on a rock, flying at thousands of miles per hour around a nuclear explosion and how did I get here? Well that started months before I got to this hipster motel in the middle of the Arizona desert.
It started like most things in the modern world, with a Google search, creative ways to save money. Somewhere on the pages of top 10 lists my wife found Vagabonding. “Vagabonding?” I said. “Yeah, actually I had written this down years ago as a possible business idea.” She said enthusiastically. “So, how does that work?” I questioned. She buried her head back in the Google pages. Really what we found is there are many ways of going about vagabonding, you could couch surf, RV, housesit, train ride, backpack, hike, run or fly around the country or around the world.
We chose to start our adventure by Housesitting around the United States in a Honda Insight, hybrid that gets ~ 44 miles to the gallon. We began the adventure in February of 2014, by selling off, or donating to homeless shelters, pretty much all of our possessions, not a bad way to put some cash in the old bank account! And for the first tip of the book, we used Craigslist to sell all of that stuff. In March of 2014 we traded in two aging vehicles for our Hybrid and packed that sucker to the brim with 4 family members, a bulldog and what remained of our personal items. Each of us got a duffle bag and a backpack, if you could fit it in those two items, you could bring it with you and we drove out of Lititz, PA on a cold spring day headed for our first housesit in Happy Camp, CA a 3,000 mile trek across America. This adventure and the rest of that road trip around the U.S. is documented on our vagabond family blog The Traveling Chimps, www.travelingchimps.com you’ll find blogs about places we visited, thoughts on vagabonding and links to all of our social media outlets. Check it out and please do not hesitate to send us questions, we love sharing our experiences and helping others in any way we can.
I have created this book to share the tricks, ideas and mistakes, and there were plenty, we made on the ultimate road trip around the U.S. so you can do it too, or some version of it.
Life Style Design
North Rim – Grand Canyon
Why? Why would you want to travel the country, the continent or the world? Well, there are many answers to that question, but for us we wanted to retire now, why wait till you’re old and can’t do half the stuff you want to? Let me tell you a story, we drove from Barstow, CA, through Las Vegas to the Grand Cannon in Arizona. We got to the North gate after two days in the car, I grabbed a beer from the lodge and we walked out onto the deck to one of the most amazing views in the world. I drank my beer and started taking pictures of the Grand Canyon and all its glory. As the buzz from my surroundings and probably the beer kicked in, I struck up a conversation with an older man, from Pittsburg, PA, who sat in an Adirondack chair on the deck of the lodge, hooked up to an oxygen tank. He asked me if I thought he would have trouble walking down the hiking trail to the mouth of the canyon to get a bird’s eye view. I told him I would scout it out for him. What I found on my short hike was a dirt path with a lot of roots, rocks and steep inclines, probably not the best place to walk for an older man hooked up to oxygen. I reported back to the man with my scouting report. He seemed disappointed and he said he had waited his whole life to come to the Grand Canyon and now he couldn’t enjoy it to the fullest. I felt for him, I really did. It hit home with us. You can’t wait to retire to see the world! Yes, you can, but many people won’t have the health or the mobility to get the most out of the experience. I pondered this thought later that night as I gazed at the Milky Way from my hipster motel in the middle of nowhere Arizona.
Types of Travelers
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Hominids have traveled for millions of years. I guess you could say that travel is responsible for the Out of Africa theory? Man originated in Africa and moved out to populate the rest of the Earth. There is no right or wrong way to go about traveling, what works for you, you should do, just make sure you do it, it’s good for your soul. Here are the types of travelers you will encounter on the road, you can choose to emulate these or create your own hybrid.
The Amazing Race – These are travelers, who like the hit television show, see how many countries they can hit and how fast? It’s certainly cool to tell people how many countries you have visited and actually I get impressed sometimes by the amount of countries folks are able to rack up. My only issue with this approach, is that you don’t have time to immerse yourself in the culture and really dive into what countries and their cities and towns have to offer, but if your time is limited and you want to get the most bang for your buck, then this is your travel type.
The Weekend Warrior – These travelers are in abundance and typically stay local using road trips to see surrounding areas near where they live. Though I know some folks who take multiple 3 day weekends during the year and fly to destinations for the weekend only. Again probably not the best way to immerse yourself in culture, but you can certainly get a feel for a place, especially with a good local tour guide or friend. Plus it sounds cool to come into work on Monday and tell everyone you spent the weekend in Costa Rica.
The Vacationer – The biggest of the travel types. Most 1st world countries offer some sort of vacation or paid time off benefit to attract and retain employees. At a minimum full time employees will get a week to two weeks of vacation time per year, with many people traveling to a destination for the whole week, like Disney or a Beach within driving distance of their home.
Badlands, South Dakota
The Slow Traveler – The type of traveler that this book is really focused on. A slow traveler spends quality time in each destination, weeks, months or even years. Immerses themselves in the local cultures and really gets an understanding of what drives the people and may even pick up on the language. In my opinion, slow traveling is the best form of travel, but it takes some planning, commitment and a nomad sense of being. It also requires a location independent job or a good chunk of savings. More on all of this in the pages to come.
The Hub and Spoke – What I have found, on my time here on this great planet, is that the cost of living in the 1st world is very expensive and monthly expenses make it difficult to find the funds to travel on a regular basis or even once per year on your paid time off. A growing trend is to move to developing country, where rent is extremely low and use this new location as your launch point or hub, like the wheel of a bicycle, to travel to other locations. Living in your hub 1-6 months per year, you’ll have a place to bring all your souvenirs back to and can keep your stuff safe, in many cases for less than a storage container.
Full Timers – Usually full timers are retired folks who spend all of their time traveling in an RV from camp ground to camp ground, but really there is no age restriction. Many of them employ a Hub and Spoke approach and will spend 1-6 months at one camp ground, usually working at the camp ground for a free stay or a low hourly wage and then traveling to other locations from their hub. There are large communities and organizations that support full timers, with legislation, health care and mail services, like Escapees, which we will talk more about later in the book.
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Expats – An expat is anyone who moves from their home country to live full time in another country. In many cases expats move to a new country for an employment opportunity. For instance, my father was an expat. He was born and raised in Altoona Pennsylvania and moved around the U.S. as he made his way up the corporate ladder. In 1993 he took a position with a U.S. based cable company in Prague, Czech Republic and worked there for 12 years before retiring. After 2 years of retirement he re-entered the cable industry with a 2 year position in Zagreb, Croatia. His business and personal life took him on trips throughout Europe and there are probably very few places he didn’t get to experience.
Snow Birds – Typically retired folks who spend the warmer months in their home town and the winter months in a warmer location. The stereotype would be retired people going to Florida for the winter, but Snow Birds could go anywhere, not just Florida. This approach is similar to the Hub and Spoke method, but focuses on finding a comfortable temperature year round.
Happy Camp, California
Like I stated earlier, there really is no right or wrong way to travel. All of these travel types are travelers, no matter what one type of traveler may say about another type. You’ll find, like in any community, some types will act like their travel type is the dominant and if you’re not traveling their way, you’re not doing it right, or you’re not hardcore enough. It’s silly, we’re all travelers. We’re all trying to get out there and experience this great world and the great people and cultures that make it up. Everyone has their preferred methods, different budgets and goals. There is no right or wrong way to travel, just travel!
One of the biggest mental barriers or resistance to traveling the world is safety. I hear it all the time, “you really want to go there? It’s dangerous there, someone will kidnap you or you’ll get blown up.” Yes, things do happen all over the world every day, from hostage situations to shootings and terrorists activities, but really the world has never been a safer place to live. Now I’m not suggesting that you travel to war zones, like Afghanistan and Iraq, though I bet you could find a great deal on an apartment, if you’re willing to take the chance. Don’t think I would want to try that one out with my family in tow though.
Last year I asked our Twitter followers if they would drive from the U.S. to Costa Rica or anywhere in Central America. The response was mixed. Half the folks thought I was crazy and it seemed that the biggest concern was southern Mexico, where drug cartels rule and many people, including a guy who quit his banking job in Westchester, NY and was riding his motorcycle to South America, when he was reported missing. They later found that man dead, near his motorcycle in a remote town in Mexico. The other half shared stories and websites with me of folks that had done just that, drove from the U.S. to Central America.
What I do know, is that you should visit the places of your dreams; you really do only live once. Get out there and see it, touch it, smell it. Safety is a relative thing. For instance we have been spending time in Washington, DC, so far this year there have been 102 homicides and the year is only half over. Now imagine you are from Switzerland, where crime and homicides are very low, and you’re thinking of visiting DC on your next travel adventure. Your friends in Switzerland may be giving you the same line I hear all the time, “You want to go there? You’ll get shot and killed.” The point is, your home country may be just as, or even more dangerous than, the places you want to visit. Many countries still hold stigma from past leaders, or events that we are now many years removed from, but the stereotypes or perception is that these events just happened and these places are still dangerous, do your homework.
Fear is good. Be mindful of your surroundings, There are people who will prey on travelers and not all of them will be violent, in fact most will not be. From the taxi driver over charging you from the airport to your hostel, or the landlord over charging for your apartment because you are clearly from another country. More to come on overcoming these challenges later in the book.
Theft is probably the biggest concern you should have. Watch your bags and especially watch your wallet and backpacks. Keep photo copies of your passport, insurance documents, driver license, etc. separate from the originals, just in case. Watch out for pick pockets! Many work in teams, one will distract you by trying to sell you something, while his/her teammate grabs your belongings from behind you. They are super good at these tactics and you probably won’t even feel them pick pocketing you. It won’t be till later when you reach for your wallet to pay for a beer, when you notice you’ve been had.
Use the U.S. Department of State’s website to find travel restrictions and warnings for U.S. travelers oversees. You can find these listings at: U.S. Department of State Travel Alerts & Warnings. I’m sure other countries have similar websites for their citizens as well. Remember though that these are just warnings, it doesn’t mean anything is going to happen to you.
Here is the link to the corresponding podcast: Episode 1- Learn the Art of Full Time Travel
Follow along on our adventure at Facebook http://www.facebook.com/travelingchimps Twitter https://twitter.com/TravelingChimps and YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/user/travelingchimps