Tag: The United States

Finding the perfect vessel

It’s official: I have itchy feet.

The only thing that makes my feet even itchier is being in a relationship with a guy who loves to travel too. At the drop of a hat, we can see ourselves anywhere at anytime. We both are aware of our freedom and the excitement associated with the open road.

Jon and I are both living in Chicago in our studio apartment. It’s a nice neighborhood and we both have good jobs. We go out to eat, get dressed up and relax just like any other normal people do.

But after a few months of hibernation after Hawaii, we both put on a few extra pounds and missed our Vitamin D. I have become increasingly burned out with work, as well as him. There’s nothing quite as exhausting as working as a server in the restaurant industry 5-6 days a week, 8 hours a day. Dealing with people in general is exhausting. Most days, we like to come home from work and just zone out.

I know this is not my personality. I typically enjoy talking to and meeting new people. But when people start talking AT you, it becomes tiring, mentally and physically.

In any case, Jon thought of an idea which I think is a good one and we’re going to try it out together. The traveling couple.

Since both of us work jobs in the hospitality industry, our schedules are pretty flexible. The industry is almost always looking for help considering the transient nature of the business. Both Jon and I have wandering attention spans and get burned out quickly. Plus, we very much enjoy leisure time.

Since our time together, we average about 3 months of work and 1 month off. This gives us enough time to save money for our next “jaunt.” I enjoy the change of scenery, and most of all, I enjoy that sweet month off.

We decided that instead of getting ourselves into a lease, furnishing a place and making a life every where we land, to instead be turtles and live with our house on our back.

For that reason, we spent weeks searching for the perfect vessel.

The romantic idea in which we put into fruition is that we would like to travel and be free agents. We want to be able to go wherever, whenever, within reason.

Both of us have never seen many parts of the United States, Canada or Mexico. So we decided on an extended road trip. This trip will be comprised of work and play. It’s going to start off with camping around various places in the United States for a few weeks, possibly a month. We are going to blow off some steam, camp, fish, hike, and reconnect.

From there, with the help of websites like www.CoolWorks.com and www.WorkingCouples.com, we plan to find seasonal work, preferably jobs that offer employee housing (many of them do), as our perfect vessel can be lived in, but is a bit tight for full-time usage. If we had to, we could, as it’s fully functional.

About our setup

The per-requisites for our vessel became clearer as our dream unfolded. This was our wishlist:

Something small

Has to be relatively stealthy (We want to off road and “boondock” meaning going off the grid for a week at a time)

Good on gas mileage (HUGE!)

Must be attached to or BE and everyday vehicle (We were looking for a Vanagon, but those are very hard to find in the Midwest!)

Affordable (Under 10K)

Relatively new with good resale value

Must have cooking space, shower and toilet,self-sustainable


As we looked, we discovered the RV world. We looked at and test drove Class A, Class B and Class C motor homes. We popped our heads in pop-ups and considered just roughing it in the back of a van with camping gear. Until we found what we were looking for.

We stopped by the Airstream dealer one afternoon on a whim, as a previous lead that day didn’t pan out. Then we saw it:

Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!
Our 2006 Northstar 850 SC Truck Camper!

This camper is perfect for many reasons. It was within budget, a relatively decent year (2006), had one previous owner who took immaculate care of it and had every basic amenity we needed. PLUS, it looks stealthy enough on the back of a truck, is completely self-sustaining and would allow us to live in it for weeks, maybe even months at a time. Not only that, but if we ever wanted to, we can leave the camper behind and take our “every day” vehicle, the truck, out for a spin when need be.

Here is an overall view of the layout:

Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?
Kitchen, toilet/shower combo, dining area, bed. What else do you need?

The inside of spacious enough. When it’s traveling, you fold it down, but when it’s time to get in and live a little, you crank up the ceiling, or pop it up, for extra head space. The unit also has an outdoor awning so we could set up a barbeque and some chairs for a nice evening under the stars.

I tried to capture a few photos, not all of them great. I’ll be updating more with time, but here are some preliminary ones:

From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!
From the outside looking in. Notice the awesome USA stickers. I want to fill that thing OUT!


Jon checking out the storage under the bed
Jon checking out the storage under the bed
The toilet/shower combo.
The toilet/shower combo.
Hello, new lifestyle
Hello, new lifestyle

In any case, there are many new things to learn with this new lifestyle. Jon and I are studying up about waste removal, water tank capacity, electricity and power. It’s definitely going to be a learning curve, but a very fun one, I think!

We purchased a Ford F250 3/4 ton truck with 4 wheel drive and an off road package. The vehicle is used, a 2004, with about 150,000 miles on it. It has a 6.5 foot bed and extended cab for extra storage space (hello charcoal grill!) Pictures of that and the complete, put together vehicle soon to come.

I am excited for this journey on the open road. The only plan now is to head west. We both love the idea of a week or two of remote camping and hiking in Colorado (and places along the way) before trying to find some work. Oh yeah, and hot springs. We both want to find some hot springs. Shouldn’t be too bad, right?

Good times ahead, me thinks
Good times ahead, me thinks

A Day at Wivenhoe Dam, Australia

We packed up a barbie, some chairs, an inflatable kayak and we were off, driving on the left side of the road on the other side of the world.

I had just arrived in Australia, my first out of country experience, and I was wide-eyed and bushy-tailed for who I’d meet, where I’d go and what I’d see.

I decided to check out Brisbane for about 2 weeks during my stay in Oz. In order to fit my budget (and to learn what was like for an Australian family), I did a home stay which I organized through Helpx. *Side note: I can’t say enough about Helpx, travelers! Don’t be put off by the subscription fee. It’s been worth every dime and more!*

I stayed with a youngish, modern and hip couple called Angie and Gary. Angie worked for the local government while Gary was a chef at a nearby college. They met in London years ago and since had traveled the world together. They opened their home to travelers in order to show Clancy, their young daughter, the ways of the world.

Meet Clancy. This girl has style!

I arrived as Fresh American Meat. When Gary picked me up from the train station and we arrived home he announced, “I found an American!”

That day I was greeted with a lovely lunch and some introductory conversations. But then we were off to explore.

Wivenhoe Dam was on the agenda, about 50 miles from Brisbane. We ended up at a place that’s actually an artificial lake, which made swimming safe (no crocs to worry about!)

A day at the dam

As Gary inflated the kayak and Clancy put on her lifejacket and immediately took to the water, Angie pointed in the distance.

“Look there they are! Some kangaroos!”

I almost fell over in shock. Wild kangaroos were galloping and bouncing about. I definitely was somewhere far away from home.

Where was I? What day was it? How was I on the other side of the world where marsupials bounced around freely? I grew up in the Midwest of America with the likes of squirrels and deer. To be honest, kangaroos are a bit mangy and not very cute.  They’re just as common as deer back in the U.S., but that didn’t make it any less cool to see them hopping around.

Straight up chillin’. Australia’s hot, yo!

Gary and I paddled in the kayak around the lake, taking in the scenery. He was very curious about me and admitted to adoring America and Americans.

“So what do you think of this place?” Gary asked me.

I could see were enormous, beautiful bluish grey mountains in the horizon. The sun was hot on my face and the sunglasses I had borrowed from Angie kept slipping off my nose. All I could conjure up was that this area of Australia reminded me of a tropical Vermont.

I think that observation amused Gary because I heard him repeat it several times throughout my stay with them. Having traveled America extensively, he was very familiar with the North east and I think his laugh was in a surprised agreement. What a strange pairing, Vermont and Australia. But what can I say? It worked.

We had a delicious barbecue next to the lake as the sun set. Typical fare was had like sausages, bread, steaks and chips.

Fire up the barbie

Shortly thereafter, I went to the bathroom and almost sat on the biggest toad I’ve ever seen camped out in the toilet. I then saw an enormous spider, the likes of something you’d see in a zoo. To Ozzies, that’s the norm. They’re just part of the Australian package.

Let it be known: if you’re weary of wildlife, exercise caution when planning your Australian holiday! I never let it get the best of me, but the squirmish better beware.

After sunset we left and I felt lucky and happy to be taken in by such a kind family who wanted to show me their little slice of Queensland heaven.

It’s official: 2012 is my RTW trip year

After much internal debating (Mainly of where to go, not whether or not I was going to go), I’ve officially embarked on my Round the World (RTW) trip.

I’ve read Bootsnall’s articles about  RTW trips, have followed many travel bloggers RTW trips and never thought this was possible for someone like me. I watched television and my heart ached at the thought of Paris and Amsterdam. I knew one day I’d eat Pho on the streets of Thailand and see a howler monkey in the rainforests of Costa Rica. But I never thought my RTW trip would happen so…haphhazzardly.

After I decided to live deliberately, challenging the status quo and going against the grain, I quit my waitressing job and my life in Philadelphia. I was living close to my sister and my friend had just moved to Philly so that we could live together. I felt a bit guilty dropping my life so suddenly, but one day, as it tends to happen, it hit me:  I have savings. I have an insatiable wanderlust. I. have. to. go. NOW!

I started innocently enough in Australia. Big deal, right? It rocked my world. I’m a changed person. I came home craving and wanting more experiences. I stayed a month and enjoyed myself so much, I’ve made the solid decision to stay on the road until my 26th birthday in September.

This picture alone was worth the trip to Oz

I thought I’d come home and work after Australia. But the more I tried to think about what job I would do, I would draw a blank. Go back to school? I wondered, maybe try to get an office job?, hell, maybe I’ll even waitress again. Somehow these all placed second to my desires and the perfect storm of opportunities bestowed upon me.

So after 2 blissful weeks in California, another 4 in Australia and a week of soul-searching in Chicago, I’ve officially decided to keep traveling until I run out and steam. I’m embarking on phase two of my journey this Sunday with some United States destinations I’ve always wanted to see. I fly into Portland to couchsurf, possibly visiting Austin, Texas, flying in Los Angeles at the end of the month to visit a friend, then taking a flight to Hawaii (big island) where I hope to spend the month. After Hawaii, I head to Costa Rica to Helpx on an organic farm (or resort, whichever will take me) and try to spend a month in Latin America (Possible destinations: Peru, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras) to improve my Spanish.

Current mission: find a more beautiful sunset. Wivenhoe Dam, Australia

From Latin America, I’ll fly to Japan, hit up S.E. Asia for a month and finish with a tour through Europe via Eurorail Pass.

Phew. I’m exhausted just thinking about it. My newly acquired passport will need more pages sooner than I thought!

How can I possibly have that many savings? you may wonder. Good question. I don’t. I’m going to be couchsurfing, working in exchange for room and board, sleeping in tents in volunteer situations, staying in budget hostels, you name it. Wherever I lay my hat will be home. I could literally die from excitement. Where will I end up? Who will I meet? It’s almost too good to think about.

I hope you all will join me on my adventures by following along. I surprised even myself with this decision, but I just can’t bear to let this opportunity slip through my fingers. I sincerely hope you, like me, hold on for the ride. It’s gonna be sweet. 


This post, and this entire trip and my changed lifestyle, is inspired by all of you readers, all of the people I practically stalk for inspiration and information on Twitter, Matador Network for changing my life by watching one video about the Cook Islands, BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Manifesto, Couchsurfing, Helpx, my free-spirited friends, my ever-supportive family, hippie love and that wild, wacky & wonderful wanderlust. 

Miffed by the University Myth

It’s official: I have to start the dialogue about the whole college thing. I’ve been feeling a certain way about it for sometime, and I’m ready to formulate some thoughts on it.

This post is inspired by fellow Matadorian Candice Walsh’s piece called 9 reasons not to go to college. It was a brilliant piece outlining reasons not to follow the traditional trajectory of success that many Americans do of flocking to University right out of highschool. Interesting bit: The United States has nearly $1-trillion dollars of student loan debt. How is there not a serious outrage over this? I am shocked, disgusted and about ready to start a revolution.

Happy then. Bitter now.

I’m currently overseas and have been discussing, among other interesting cultural differences from the U.S., the way we approach education vs. other countries. I’m currently staying with a family that is also hosting a couple from France. Natasha graduated from “traditional” University with almost no debt (University in France is virtually free. Her tuition with books was less than $1,000 euros/academic year.) Alex went to a “trade” program for engineering which was equally inexpensive. Both of them completed internships (Natasha in Western France, Alex in Germany) before traveling to Australia. What’s interesting about this couple is that neither of them are in debt $50,000 or $100,000 like many people I know. Instead of panicking to find a job in their field to pay off a huge debt, one that looms over your head and threatens to ruin and dictate your life at a very early age, they were able to cheerfully pick up and travel the world for a while. Nevermind the euro and the economic crisis is France is border-line Greece-worthy. Ouch.

Crisis, schmisis. Natasha and Alex simply chill at the Gold Coast.

I’m detecting a trend (I perceive it to be a very positive one) that people in the United States are fed up. In a phone conversation with my mom once, as I aired my grievances about working shitty job after shitty job, she admitted (somewhat frighteningly) that she is losing faith that college was ever a good idea. All of her daughters who attended are struggling one way or another. Perhaps a college education wasn’t the “golden ticket” our parents’ generation thought it would be.

I have friends that have found ways around paying their student loans, most of them sad, but true. Of them include going back for more education (in turn accruing more debt, eventually settling to sell one’s soul to the world of academia to pay it off), and filing for unemployment as long as possible to put the loan in deferment. Who can bear to live another day flipping burgers when a student loan bill comes in month after month for $500? That’s more than rent in most places!

In Australia, tuition for college rarely exceeds $10,000/academic year. Instead of having to pay off a monumental debt akin to a nasty credit card debt, Australian’s see about one percent of their paychecks go toward student loan debt. What’s fascinating is that the amount that is taken is on a vacillating scale: if you are earning peanuts, the gov’t takes much less. Once you begin to earn more money, you pay more. Sort of a SMART, sliding scale theory. Adopted from the British. Good on you, mates.

I’ve been lucky that my student loan was minimal. Somehow I had this idea when trying to choose a school that the more prestigious and expensive the University to grant me a piece of paper (which I don’t even know where it is. How about that?), the better off I would be. Maybe that was true at a time for people from old money. Luckily my smart parents talked me out of that. Phew, dodged that bullet. Now I only set aside $82/month for my student loan debt. Laughable to some. Still a pain in the ass reminder every month, though, that I’m paying for an education with a job I didn’t even go to school for.

Hi, I'm Jill. The peace-lovin' hippie chick. May I take your order?

How can we turn this around? Discourage kids from getting an education? No. I think college afforded me some valuable experiences, but none more than social and personal growth. Yes, I did learn to write term paper after term paper. Yes, I did read some of Literature’s greats. In hindsight, I wish I would have seen college’s most valuable offering: Networking. I didn’t bother to networking nearly enough. I rarely speak to anyone I even knew in college, in fact. How’s that for an education?

We need to redefine what getting an education means. Walsh points out different alternatives to attending University, all of them better than the next. Everyone should take time to travel. That’s a given and something people don’t do enough. The experience you can gain by traveling the world will make you savvy and able to survive, make contacts and valuable relationships around the world, both professionally and personally.

Also, trade schools are another great idea. Why commit to a rigid and strict 4 year program when 2 years of that is essentially courses you have no interest in taking (ie: Gen Eds)? My friend Kelly attends film school in Burbank, California and it’s the perfect storm: 14 months of intensive coursework 3 days a week, a tight-knit group of classmates (who will eventually become colleagues and valuable contacts later on) without all the beaurocratic riffraff of University life. Get in, get it done, get out, get a job. That should be the name of the game!

Developing an entrepreneurial mindset is something I’ve strived to achieve this year. I’ve started bit by bit, and hope to become a self-sufficient earner. Nobody in University teaches you about finances or generating income. Hardly was there even a time we discussed getting a job in the “real world.” We just practiced different techniques of the real-world in a bubble. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I grew up with Microsoft Word. Perhaps the most engaging and memorable experiences in college were class discussions where we were able to have an open forum of idea exchange. Why should that have to cost so much money? I could have just as easily attended book club at a local cafe once a week. Gulp.

I watched a documentary about the visionary genius Steve Jobs. He dropped out of college. He went on a LSD pilgrimage to India instead. And he was one of the most successful and creative people of our time. If you have a good idea, pursue it. Then market the hell out of it. Become your own spokesperson. Demand the respect and attention you deserve. Don’t pay $100,000 for it, then work a shitty job to pay back the government for putting you in this pickle in the first place.

I guess if I could do college all over again, I would. But I’d certainly want to have a clearer idea of what I wanted to accomplish. I would make more valuable connections. I would have….waited a few years, to be honest. Who knows what they want when they are 18? I mostly cared about scoring booze and securing my first apartment. I certainly wasn’t thinking about my “financial future.”

In Highschool I learned to Senior Pic. In College, I learned to to Senior Pic on beer.

Words of wisdom: Take some time off between high school and college to travel. Find something you’re good at it. If you can make money doing it honestly, keep pursuing it. If you feel the need to go to University, get a grant or find a program that will finance it for you. Believe in me, you won’t be happy to be getting those huge loan bills in the mail every month. Redefine your idea of success. Start now and you won’t be sorry.

Am I just a rabble-rouser? Or are these real issues?