We didn’t expect to be in Mexico in February. We had been planning on heading to southeast Asia shortly after the holidays. Then Daniel’s brother gave us four free flights on Alaska Airlines – with the catch that they had to be used by the end of March. Hey, we can’t resist a good deal.
We arrived in Puerto Vallarta at the end of January. We boarded a public bus just outside the airport, fumbling with our newly withdrawn pesos and looking for a seat that wasn’t creaky or broken. I couldn’t stop smiling. “This is what we’re supposed to be doing,” I told Daniel, beaming. Traveling in the U.S. is great, but getting out of the country is just the best. We love the new experiences. We love pushing our comfort zones.
Three hundred sixty-five days ago, Daniel and I did one final check of our possessions, started up the engine of our van, and pulled out onto the road. We’ve been gone eleven of the twelve months since.
I liked the poetry of starting our travels on the spring equinox. The end of winter and the beginning of a season of life and light felt like an apt metaphor for this new season in our own lives. We’ve watched sunrises and sunsets in forests and deserts, slept under the stars, hiked among ancient cultural wonders, and trekked through towns and countries I couldn’t have pinned on a map.
By no means has every day been perfect. Approximately three seconds after we first pulled out of the driveway, I looked in the rear view mirror and watched our newly purchased five-gallon water carrier go flying off our storage platform, bouncing off the bed before settling against the driver’s side sliding door. There were still a few kinks to work out. But in spite of a few little mishaps, it’s been the longest year of my life in the best way possible.
This is the third installment in our series in which we share our cost of living as we experiment with different FIRE adventures and travel to destinations around the world. Our first #vanlife trip in the western U.S. came in slightly under budget, while our backpacking trip around Eastern Europe was a bit more expensive.
We spent another three months on the road in our van this fall, reaching 25 states and 3 Canadian provinces. It was a great adventure, and we loved seeing new places and returning to some old favorites. I can’t say I’d recommend such a brisk pace (or van camping in the northern states late into autumn), but seeing our friends and family around the country was well worth it. If you have the flexibility, though, leave in spring!
Our trip started with a cold but gorgeous few weeks in Montana and the Canadian Rockies, took us through Yellowstone and Grand Teton, and hauled us all the way out to the Midwest for a good friend’s wedding before we took the long southern route home.
The morning after our rude awakening by the police, we were up and out before sunrise, exactly as promised. Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula felt practically abandoned in early November, with no sign of vacationers and just a few locals out and about. Our encounter with the cops had left a bad taste in our mouths, and we weren’t exactly eager to linger in the area, but we still spent the morning exploring some of the area’s parks and taking in the beautiful fall colors and lake scenery.
Cave Point County Park
I woke to the sound of a car door slamming. It was pitch black in the van. I felt around for my phone and checked the time. 1:45 AM.
We were camping in Door County, Wisconsin, out on the Door Peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan. In six months of van travel, we’ve had many glorious nights of legal dispersed camping on public land, usually in National Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management areas. Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of public land east of the Rockies, but we had found a site listed online as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property. It had three or four positive reviews – a nice place to spend a night in a small RV or camper.
I laid still and listened to the crunch of footsteps in the gravel as they worked a full circle around our vehicle.
A beam of light burst into the van, pausing on our duffel bags and cooking gear for a moment before it reached the two of us in our resting place for the evening.
I shook Daniel awake. “We’ve got company,” I would have announced if our lives were an action movie. “We’re getting woken up by the police” were my actual words.
There was a knock at the window. “Police department!”
My suspicions were confirmed. Ah, fuck.