Travel Log #3 – Winter 2013 Travel Preview

Allie and I just got back from a trip that took us some 25,000 miles and covered NYC to Malaysia to Singapore. I guess this is our first real trip, since the rest have been short excursions or to move across country. We’ve got plenty of pictures to sort through, but here are a few teasers from the ol’ iphone gallery.

Colin and Allie in Grand Central Station, NYC.
Grand Central

Allie drinking a Tiger Beer in George Town, Penang on Chinese New Year.
Penang

One of the amazing beaches on Langkawi.
Langkawi Beach

Travel Log #2 – San Antonio

Allie was out of town visiting her mom and aunt in St. Pete, FL, so I invited Shane down to bum around a little bit. He got in early at the airport and we hit the road to San Antonio.

First stop, a giant replica candle thing. It was in the ghetto, but I thought it was great.
San Antonio with Shane
Shane did not.
San Antonio with Shane

There are a number of Missions in San Antonio, including the famous/disappointing Alamo. We visited all of them, I think.
San Antonio with Shane
San Antonio with Shane
Glamour Shane.
San Antonio with Shane
Weird fish face man on a reprint of an old map. I believe he lives in the Pacific Ocean somewhere.
San Antonio with Shane

After all of that, we went to the AMAZING Ed’s Smok-N-Q
San Antonio with Shane
Best BBQ I’ve ever had. They were out of brisket, but we still got some good meats.

When we got back, Shane lost a brutal battle with the couch and ended up sleeping on the floor.
San Antonio with Shane

Travel Log #1 – Austin

One of the BIG reasons I started this blog was to document some of the places we go.  I know it’s not the same as going, but it’s still nice to look back and remember the neat places.

Log #1 starts with a nice break from work and working on the van conversion to get out of town for the weekend.  We headed up to the Austin area, a city we want to like, but have not really just yet (sorry Marty and Mariah).  Our goal was go go hiking, not to see the nightlife.  Friday evening we hung out in a hotel.  Truck was very very sad.

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Too sad.  There must be a remedy.

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Much better.

We chose Pedernales Falls State Park, which sits about 40 miles from downtown Austin.  Once you get off the highway, it gets pretty Texas-hilly fast.  Such a fun drive and it’d be a blast in a little car.  We paid our $10 and headed to the falls.  When it’s full, it’s super-dangerous. We were lucky enough to have just a trickle of water and a day that warmed up to about 60 degrees by noon.

Lots of dry rocks with little pools.
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Allie posing with Truck as we got started.
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Colin posing with Allie as we get started.
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Allie and Truck on the edge of a neat pool.
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Probably one of my favorite images of the day.
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A bit up the river, there was a gated off cave. Couldn’t see much from the outside, but there was a little archaeological marker at the entrance.
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arch

Allie felt a little ill and took a nap in the sun. The sun finally broke through the clouds and warmed us up.
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Truck basking in the sun.
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On the way out, we stopped at Jester King brewery, conveniently located just before we got back to the highway. Very pretty out with a great beer selection. The tasting is $10/person, but completely worth it!
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Kitty keeps the beer safe.
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Another shot I love. The sun and the grass made everything golden and pretty.
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Truck going for a drag. He got a much needed bath that evening.
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We headed back early Sunday morning since Allie had to work, but it was a good escape. I have not done a lot of hiking, but scenes like these really inspire me to get out more. I think Allie would be happy to hike a lot more often as well. Truck did very well, so I don’t think he’ll have a problem either.

Hopefully the next trip is in the RV. Update coming on that soon.

Van? RV? What’s the Difference?

About 400 hours of work, I’m guessing.

Well, we did it!  We dumbly bought a 1973 Chevy Step Van.  It looks like a bread truck, for the most part.  Or a chip truck.  Or like any delivery truck Chevy has made since the ’70s until now.

Here are some pictures!

We’re going to wood line the inside, put in a little sink and toilet, and shower in whatever water sources we can find.  Or an outdoor shower.  There will be more and more pictures added to that set over the next few weeks, so keep looking!  Great thing about this old vehicle – great mechanical shape.  I feel like I could take it anywhere, no problem.  I feel safe and stable.  No seats in there now… but I assume I will feel safe and stable inside.

 

If you’re interested in a more detailed follow-along, I’m posting progress and asking/answering questions at the RV Escapees forum here.

Twins!!

So what you’ve got here is baby D.  He is one part of a set of twin boys.  You can’t see baby M because he hasn’t decided to join reality yet.

Backstory – Mark and Debbie, Colin’s brother and SIL, were pregnant with twins until a few weeks ago.  Baby D’s water broke and he hung in there until 12 days ago when he was born – way back in June.  Baby M…well, he decided he’s all set and is happy without a wombmate.  So he’s just hanging around, in a different month, waiting until the time comes.  While we’re all hoping for a world record if he stays in for another 50 days, Debbie’s on bed rest until he does decide to be born.

Congratulations to Mark and Debbie – so happy the babies are doing well and we hope to have two nephews ready for spoiling very very soon!!

Marriage + Beer = Trips to Atlanta

Allie and I just got back from a really quick trip to Atlanta.  The occasion:  Elizabeth getting hitched to her Marine sweetheart.  They’re now on a three day trek back to the base in Yuma, while we made it back safe and sound with our precious cargo from Hop City.

Quick info piece on Texas:  Southern Star Brewery (and a few others) recently sued the state to change label laws.  Beer over 4.5% had to be labeled “Ale” regardless of the style.  For some breweries, this was unacceptable – they’re not calling a stout an ale just so Texas can drink it.  For others, they just can’t afford to make special runs of labels and batched for Texas.  Even with this law changing, we’re not seeing many new breweries here, but we are getting some different beer from established breweries.  Even with the label change, it’s still a $6000 one-time cost just to consider distributing.

Rather than keep drinking the same old beer, we went ahead and stocked up on some of the good stuff.  Some highlights are Hitachino XD, Weyerbacher Insanity, T’Gaverhopke Singing Blond, and Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy.  All great beers, along with the rest.  I just can’t remember them all.

So we will toast to the newlyweds for the next month or so until this beer supply run out.

And then we panic.

Thistles Grow Big

We decided to head out on a drive the other day.  Texas has a lot of bayous and they’re apparently “scary and worthless” to a lot of folks.  We headed to the Armand Bayou Nature Center and took a stroll around.  There were huge thistles all over the place and if you can see Allie’s arm details, she has a lovely thistle tattoo on her forearm.  When we got married, Allie carried thistles, although they were a bit less prickly looking than these.  We like thistles a lot.  Maybe it’s the Scot in me. 

Deep in the Heart

No, not that Uncle Rico/Val Kilmer masterpiece.  I’m talking about TEXASSSSSS!!  Part of the reason we have this blog is to keep friendlies and families up to date on where we are and what’s what.

We moved to Houston in October to pursue an opportunity at an oil company.  Black gold.  So we abruptly uprooted from Maine… sorry if this is the first you’ve heard…and we hustled in a car and truck hauling a little trailer to our new home city.

As you can see from the official map of Tejas (give it a click, see it big and proud!), we are surrounded by the ocean, Mexico, and tornadoes of DEATH.  We settled in the Heights area of Houston, which is northwest of downtown and surrounded by highways of DEATH.  We’re in a very small shotgun style duplex that is probably around 500 s.f.  It’s small, but great for the keeping the placed chilled during the hot months.  It’s also a nice stepping stone towards moving in to a 250 s.f. travel trailer at some point.

We’ve enjoyed Houston so far.  We don’t plan on living out our days here  - too hot, too many bugs, too flat, no snow, etc – but we will enjoy our time here.  The ocean is nearby, there’s great food, plenty of good movies come through, abandoned buildings, interesting places within a few hours, 1 day drive back to the hometown, and all the advantages of living in a real city.

And now, some facts:

  • Houston is home to over 90,000 Tex-Mex restaurants.  That’s a lot of enchiladas!
  • The Houston zoo only contains live snakes.  The rest of the animals are convincing animatronics.  What a digital gyp!
  • The speed limit in Houston is 120 mph, the highest in the country.  There are over 2000 driving deaths monthly.  Better buckle up!
  • Houston is the most obese city in the world, with the average weigh of an adult whale..er… male being 318 lbs.  That’s a lot of enchiladas!

In closing, we’re doing well, enjoying new adventures, and hope you visit soon!

Itty, Bitty, Teeny Houses

When Allie and I tell folks we’re going to live in a travel trailer and we’re not anywhere close to retiring, we sometimes get questions about this so-called “Tiny House” movement.  I don’t ever claim to be part of the movement – the reasons we are choosing this are personal (see previous post).  As I understand the movement, it was born from Susan Susanka’s Not So Big series of books starting in the late 90′s.  She believe that we should focus on design and quality in a smaller space rather than building huge, cheap homes.  I am behind that all the way – I love technology and I think if you’re going to choose simplicity, you might as well get the best bang for your buck.  Things like high efficiency appliances, thin LCD tvs, latest and greatest in gauges and monitoring, the nicest wood finishes available – all of these will help you enjoy your space to the max.

However…this great idea has taken a turn towards the absurd.  It’s recently been championed as a way to live cheaply and environmentally friendly..y.  You have blogs like the Tiny House Blog and companies like Tumbleweed Houses touting this as an incredibly revolution in human living while trying to turn some quick money on a trend.  Here’s an example of a tiny house featured on Tiny House Blog:

Are you kidding me?  That’s an abandoned shack.  They’re acting like this idea of living in a small space is a new idea for humans, that we’ve all had palatial caves since the beginning of time and now we have to be more responsible.  The idea is more in less space, not less in less space.  Most of the featured designs are minimally built with cheap materials, not innovative designs that maximize the living experience.  Oh, get this, squatting is a totally legit way to “tiny house” it these days.  It’s infuriating, really.

The other big issue I have is over the big money grab by folks unqualified to drive this movement.  I count the often blogged about Tumbleweed Homes as one of the worst.  They sell completed homes or plans so you can build your own home.  Their plans range from $17.00 to almost $1000.  You get promises of your very own incredibly home, cheaply built, and completely portable in some cases.  I really liked their Popomo house since it seems like a slightly more stylish box than the others.   Maybe an alternative to the ever-popular airstream – even has a metal skin!  A few things bothered me though – thick steel siding adding weight, rigid architectural features that may not stand up to stresses of moving, and the lack of RV hookups.  I sent a message over asking about the road durability of these houses and got this back:

Colin,
Jay’s Epu had over 4000 miles on it and there was never any signs of wear and tear on the house. Our homes on wheels are designed to be moved and can stand up to the rigors of being on the road. We have never had a single customer complain about the construction of the homes or their road-worthiness.
Brett

Thanks Brett!  4000 miles!  That’s incredible!  And not one single complaint over any bit of construction?  That’s an unprecedented track record.  I’m not sure even a manufacturer like Airstream or Casita could claim that level of satisfaction!

Here’s the facts:  these homes cost between $20,000 (if you make it) and up to the $50,000 to $60,000 range if you have them built by Tumbleweed.  They weigh in the range of 1000 to 2000 lbs more than their travel trailer counterparts.  The trucks they use to pull them are heavy duty trucks that are far from environmentally friendly – Tumbleweed’s TV spot gave me a glimpse of the massive dually used to pull the 89 s.f. house they were showing off.  The plans only tell you how to frame the house, and mention nothing as far as water systems and power systems – leave that to the professionals, they say.  All in all, not quite the bargain you’d hope for.  I can’t really speak to their land-based homes, but I’ll bet it’s a similar story.  Let’s compare this to what I’m looking at for a 26′ used airstream:  total cost with a full gut and refurb:  $10,000.  Weighs less, designed for hauling, and actually has reasonable power and water systems.

I could go on and on (and I probably already have), but I think a great, simple idea has been hijacked by folks unqualified to speak on elements of design.  I’ve watched this go from a cool, practical movement to something overrun with advertising, workshops, overpriced products, etc.  I’m all for making money, but the method seems counter to the supposed ideals.  I’m also all for quality construction and materials, something usually lost in tiny home “designs”.

Here’s my personal tiny house philosophy:

  • Belongings are a burden.  While they are enjoyable, most of them are not needed or even used on a regular basis.  We adapt to our given space – going small simply forces you to downsize.
  • Small doesn’t mean cramped or cheap.  We plan on making the most of every square inch of our living space and having the best of everything (within reason).
  • Small CAN be cheap!  You can build your own home on your own land for far cheaper than many of these sub-100 s.f. living spaces.
  • It’s not for everyone.  A lot of folks like big TVs in big houses.  There’s nothing wrong with that and this isn’t a condemnation of American Excess, it’s a personal choice.

Done with the ranting.  Hope it gives you a little insight.

We want to … what?

We want to live full time in a travel trailer. Maybe for two years, maybe for the rest of our lives, but we think the first step is just doing it.  Part of this blog is chronicling the changes in how we think, how we feel about this, and the experiences we gain.  So let’s get in to it, shall we?

Why Do This?

  • A significant pruning down of stuff and junk. We both love thrift storing and collecting cameras, clothes, and little doo-dads. We have a lot and most of it I never use and never look at. Things I use daily: clothing (same pants for a week), computers, and cell phones. Everything else.. it’s for fun. If I change careers, this could expand to using microphones and recorders, but those are all slim and easy to store. A professional sound rig could be stuffed into a travel Pelican case with ease.
  • Saving money. We have lived in cheaper houses with cheaper utilities since we’ve been married. For TWO YEARS!! THAT’S RIGHT, WE’RE OLD PROS AT THIS!! Anyway. I always assumed that RV sites are cheaper than renting a place. A little searching has blown that idea right out of the water. $45/night at KOA, $54 at a local place. Holy crud, Matthew Lesko, that’s double the rent! More searching is obviously needed, but I stand by my claims. Monthly rates, perhaps?
  • We hate packing. Whether it’s for vacation or to move. Hate it. Solution? Obvious. NOTE: This is probably the worst, laziest reason possible, but it’s still usually the first thing I say when asked “Why?” Probably because it’s the funniest reason other than…
  • Seeing the country. I’ve traveled a lot for work. My wife has not. Every place I go, I decide if I’d like to revisit. I really want to spend a few months in Minneapolis in a travel trailer. Beautiful, great food. I don’t know if I want to live there. We want to see the mountains, deserts, beaches, cities, and long roads in between. We want to chase storms in the Midwest and see the sun set over the Rockies. We are beer enthusiasts. Sounds like a life-long brewery tour to me!
  • Career options. When you travel, you’ve got some options. Consulting, film work, contract work, working on farms, you name it! If I can pay the monthly bills, I’ll do it. Currently, I like my job. Allie likes hers. I think we can wander around locally for a few years while we get our feet wet before I’d even consider cutting ties with my job and leaving.
  • We don’t want to buy a house. At least not just yet. There are several reasons including INSANE prices of houses, taxes, upkeep, and (most importantly) a house ties you down geographically. We’re not ready for that. We may never be. Allie always says when we stop in some town “I could live here” or “I could never live here.” Neither of us have ever said or even though “Wow, I could spend 10 or 30 years here.” We view the investment in a truck and trailer as our first house. Later, we might find a place we like and build a small house. Or homestead. Nothing traditional, for sure.
  • We’re not traditional. We are both a bit strange. We look strange. We like strange things. This isn’t a traditional lifestyle and we know it. It’s what is so attractive.

That’s it in a nutshell. I’m going to quickly hammer out some pros and cons that will probably both expand massively as time goes by.

I’ve very nervous about all this.  Here’s a picture of me wearing women’s clothes, being stressed:

Why am I stressed?  There are apparent downsides to this lifestyle…

CONS!! EX CONS!

  • I don’t like camping. This sounds a lot like camping. I’m sure with a nice shower and bathroom, I’ll get over it. Allie… she likes camping okay. We like our comforts though.
  • Cost. Sure, it seems cheap on paper, but I have a feeling there are a lot of hidden costs.
  • Pets. We like our critter and it’s going to be harder and more claustrophobic in the smaller space.
  • Space. Speaking of. We do want to prune down, but it’s going to be hard. We also don’t have as much personal space. It would be nice to have separate rooms, but that doesn’t seem like an efficient layout. Perhaps for sanity reasons….
  • Getting Netflix. I am dead serious. We watch a lot of movies, and getting Netflix DVDs isn’t going to be very reasonable with a moving target of an address.
  • Internet. This is less of a worry, but still won’t be as convenient as a permanent address. We both rely on the internet for a lot of social and work-related tasks.
  • Healthcare. We are pretty healthy people, but things can change. I know there are options, but none are as good as a corporate health plan.
  • WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE ARE DOING. Pretty self explanatory. I can learn from the internets all day long, but in the end, I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what hookups look like, I don’t know how much gray water I need to hold. I don’t know how to drive a truck with a trailer that big. I’m hyperventilating.

PROSE!! PROSE?

  • We are stubborn. This relates to the last con up above. I believe we can and will do this.
  • Space. We DO love each other. We love spending time with each other. Life will simplify and let us focus on our core hobbies and interests (for me, playing video games). We will not be buying junk we don’t need. We will be cooking in more often, although we do that a lot now.
  • Adventure! Yes, it is an adventure. Biggest pro here. This is new and very exciting. If it becomes boring, it sounds like we just need to uproot and change the scenery.
  • People are helpful. This is the nice thing I’ve seen in the RV world – people want to help. We’re not competing for anything. When you ask about film making, people think you’re gunning for their job and have no interest in helping out. When you ask about RVing, people want to share their knowledge and see what you’ve learned. It’s a community. I like that. Whenever I’ve been camping (hate the method, love some aspects), the campsites are like never ending hors devours parties – chatting, wandering around, meeting people, laughing. Our neighbors now: glare at us, won’t even say “hello” or wave back. RVers seem more open-minded than that. It’d be an odd decision to be a grouch and park 5 feet from strangers wherever you go.

Comments?  Questions?  Fire the main cannons!