May in Southwestern Utah

We drove straight to Moab from California, stopping only for a night’s rest at a Nevada rest area. Upon arrival in Utah, we immediately met up with Daniel’s parents and grandmother, all of whom had flown in from Seattle to join us for a week on the road.

Daniel’s parents are in their late fifties, and both still work full-time. Though they used a meaningful portion of their annual vacation days to take this trip, it felt like hardly enough time to see even one of the magnificent destinations we visited – let alone six National Parks in six days. When we said our goodbyes a few days later at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, it felt like they had just arrived. It was a poignant reminder of the things we don’t miss about working – and one of the biggest reasons we’re thankful to be traveling full-time.

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After a hurried half-day drive around Arches National Park, we woke the next morning ready to explore Canyonlands, only to find that their Dodge Durango rental car had completely crapped out. Not just “needs a jump start” out, but “needs to be towed back to the dealership in Salt Lake City and a replacement car brought back to you” out. We burned a full day of their short vacation in Moab, where they had the pleasure of meeting multiple mechanics and I fully familiarized myself with the power outlet layout and variable wi-fi signal strength of the local McDonald’s.

The days that followed were more enjoyable, and we tagged along for trips to Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

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With Daniel’s 87-year-old grandmother in tow, we stuck mostly to the scenic vistas and parking lot walks – each park visit serving as a teaser for our return trips this past week.

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Our trip since the family’s departure has looked a bit different, with deeper exploration of each destination and a running average of about 10 miles hiked each day.

We had the great pleasure of meeting up for lunch with Tamara and Chris, our van-dwelling idols from Nomads with a Van, who were wrapping up a housesitting gig in southwestern Utah. On their recommendation, we explored Utah’s stunning Snow Canyon State Park, finding great dispersed camping options just a few miles down the road.

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From there, we returned to Zion, where we spent multiple days hiking to Hidden Canyon, Angel’s Landing, and the park’s less traveled Kolob Canyons area (also on Chris and Tamara’s recommendation; thank you!)

We continue to be blown away by the quality of dispersed camping – finding multiple unreal campsites within a ten or twenty minute drive of the Zion Visitor Center. The maps on the Public Lands Interpretive Association web site have been helpful for confirming that we’re on NFS or BLM land rather than crashing in someone’s backyard.

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We moved northeast from Zion, intrigued by the million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument marked just to the east of Bryce Canyon on our map. We enjoyed a late afternoon hike through the slot canyon formed by Willis Creek on the west side of the Monument.

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The next morning, we explored just a few of the many sights on the east side of the Monument – from bizarre hoodoos in Devil’s Garden, to 165 million-year-old dinosaur prints, to one of the most fun hikes we’ve done in a long time – working our way end-to-end through Peekaboo and Spooky Canyon, two long and narrow slot canyons at times barely wide enough for a modestly portioned human being to fit through.

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I wished we could have spent a whole week at Grand Staircase-Escalante – ideally with a 4WD high-clearance vehicle, something we might consider for future endeavors. For now, though, it’s back to Arches and Canyonlands, where we have some unfinished hiking left to do.

Free Camping in Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra

We’ve spent the past month exploring more of California, venturing north from Yosemite into Stanislaus National Forest, then east across the Sierra Nevada. The scenery has been breathtaking. The weather has been nearly perfect.

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Pinecrest Lake in Stanislaus National Forest, California

When we headed to Yosemite National Park a few weeks ago, we were a bit nervous about the dwindling availability of campsites in the park. One week before our visit, there were only two spaces remaining on the Recreation.gov booking system – and at the relatively steep price of $26 per night. While that may not sound like much for an average weekend getaway, it’s a meaningful portion of our daily full-time travel budget. Besides, we’d rather save that money for concert tickets and brewery visits. We opted to venture into the park without a reservation, hoping we could find an alternative.

Our gamble paid off. With just a little extra effort, we found dozens of unoccupied campsites just a few minutes outside the park entrance.

The joy of dispersed camping

When I’ve told some friends and family that we’ve been dispersed camping around California, the first image that has come to mind has often been of “stealth” camping, the black-out-all-the-windows, hope-we-don’t-get-caught-by-the-cops style of urban van-dwelling.

On the contrary, dispersed camping is completely legal – and far more enjoyable. Unless otherwise posted, all National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land is open for free camping, and many of the desirable locations have already been staked out with two-wheel-drive accessible driveways and stone fire pits. When we find a spot, we break out the chairs, table, and camp stove. If a ranger happens to drive by, we exchange a wave.

On top of the attractive price point, dispersed camping also makes for a spectacular camping experience. No crowds. No bright headlights passing through at all hours. No RVs running generators in the middle of the night. Just us and nature.

FreeCampsites.net has been hugely helpful for finding locations. It’s now been over a month since we paid to camp.

Free camping on Forest Road 1S02, just west of Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy entrance. A herd of seven deer passed right through our campsite the next morning.

Free camping on Forest Road 1S02, just west of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy entrance. A herd of seven deer passed right through our campsite the next morning.

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Will Spending Really Go Down in Old Age?

One of the first things I learned upon wading into the world of FIRE was that the majority of traditional financial advice is off-base and irrelevant for those pursuing aggressive savings and retirement before 65. The rules of thumb cited by major media sources are targeted largely at mainstream consumers who live paycheck to paycheck, spend 90 to 110% of their income each month, and will be lucky to have much of anything saved by traditional retirement age.

And, oh, do I love to trash them:

“Allocate 50% of your income to necessities, 40% to ‘wants,’ and 10% to debts and savings”

Garbage. If you don’t want to have to work until 65, adjust your lifestyle until you’re saving 30, 40, 50% or more.

“Plan for a retirement spending level of 80-85% of pre-retirement income”

Nonsense. Your retirement spending target should be based on spending projections rather than your current income.

“’Snowball’ your consumer debt repayments in order from smallest to largest”

Completely inefficient. Pay down debts in order of interest rate, unless closing accounts is the only source of motivation that will keep you disciplined.

It surprises me, then, that there’s a major financial assumption I see tossed around constantly – yet rarely analyzed and rarely questioned:

“People tend to spend less as they get older.”

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Should We Be Afraid to Travel to Turkey?

In less than two months, Daniel and I will be on an airplane to Istanbul. Our plan, as it stands today, is to spend three days in the historical region of Cappadocia, return to Istanbul for a week, then head south to the famous Mediterranean resort city of Antalya before departing for other destinations in Eastern Europe.

Cappadocia. Photo credit: Moyan Brenn

Cappadocia. Photo credit: Moyan Brenn

We knew when we made these plans several months ago that Turkey isn’t the safest or most stable destination in the world right now. In addition to being at the center of one of the greatest refugee crises in modern history, the country has been a frequent target of terrorism and violence, much of it perpetrated by ISIS.

The southeastern part of Turkey along the Syrian border is practically a war zone today, but we’ve never had plans to set foot anywhere near that area. Even hundreds of miles away, though, Turkey has seen more than its fair share of violence. In booking our trip, the October suicide bombing of a train station in the capital city of Ankara that left 102 people dead was still fresh in our memories, as was the January attack that killed 11 in an Istanbul tourist area.

We weren’t oblivious to these events when we made our plans. As evidenced by recent attacks in Paris and Brussels, terrorism and violence can happen anywhere. In spite of a few incidents, we were determined to not let irrational fear dictate our plans.

I knew exactly how my mom would react when I shared our tentative itinerary. “We’re going to travel to Turkey with my college friends this summer,” I shared expectantly. She didn’t say anything. Her panicked face said it all for her. My tasteless joke that “we just couldn’t resist their blow-out sales” went over about as poorly as anticipated.

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April in Yosemite

We’ve spent the better part of the past week in Yosemite National Park. After three weeks in the desert, we were happy to escape to cooler temperatures and a more familiar mountain landscape. I grew up coming to Yosemite, but it was Daniel’s first time in the park.

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After a few summertime visits in recent years, I had forgotten how much I love it here. Spring is a great time to visit: late enough that the snow in Yosemite Valley has melted and the daytime temperatures regularly reach 60 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit (15 or 20 degrees Celsius), yet early enough to avoid the madness of peak summer tourist season. If the goal of visiting the wilderness is to enjoy peaceful, quiet time with nature, Yosemite in summer is about as far from that as you can get: a steady stream of massive chartered coaches and tour buses; mobs of loud, inappropriately shoed hikers on every trail; and lines of cars waiting for parking spots at every viewpoint. It’s one of the most heavily trafficked National Parks, and it feels like it. Do I sound like an old curmudgeon yet?

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Yosemite Valley wildlife: Tamer than your average housecat

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