A Fun Distraction

Road trip! (photo credit: Katie Moum/Unsplash)

A couple of weeks ago, with all the bad news about the COVID pandemic around the world, Brett and I took a deeper look at our Plan B, an extended road trip around the continental U.S. We wanted to see if it was indeed possible and what it might cost compared to our original Big Adventure II plan.

The Ultimate National Park road trip

The exercise really got going when I came across a map for the Ultimate National Park Road Trip. Brett and I have often dreamed of doing a western National Park loop trip, but here was one that stopped at all the parks in the U.S.! For a few days he and I poured over the map trying to decide which direction we’d go and where we’d stay. I investigated Airbnb rentals in the areas we chose, we figured out the best state to set up residency before we set off (Washington), and we evaluated whether to buy an RV or a car (new or used), and with a car should it be hybrid or not, sedan or SUV, and so forth.

For several days we were caught up in the excitement of trip planning, imaging a nomadic life on the road for a few years before settling down. We even figured out how we could still fit in an annual trip to Japan and started heading down the road of convincing ourselves that maybe this was the better way to do the second round of the Big Adventure.

And then we crunched the numbers. Comparing those to our original plans we discovered there was no contest: overseas travel was the easy winner. A road trip would cost us a whole lot more.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid was the best choice for size, comfort, MPG, and cost. We were quite surprised to find that buying used made only a slight difference in the price.

The reason? Purchasing and operating a car put a huge dent in the budget. Even with a substantial down payment, even with choosing a economical car (our ultimate choice was the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid), the cost of owning and operating any car would take a big chunk out of our monthly budget. It didn’t matter whether we bought new or used, the total cost each month would be a lot (not just the monthly payment but also the gasoline, insurance, and other operating costs). We told ourselves that at the end of our journey we would at least own a car, but then remembered our ultimate goal is to not own a car. An RV purchase was even more out of the question, but we also found Airbnb rental prices to be higher in the U.S. than many places overseas. It would be something of a struggle to stay within or under our monthly budget for lodging for almost any place in the U.S., even staying in one location for a month.

We also realized we are not crazy about being in the U.S. during another election year.

It was a fun diversion to think about doing a big road trip versus traveling overseas again, but in the end our original plan proved to be the more frugal and exciting choice for us. Our goals for the future are solid and we want to stick to them. We know we can do a road trip if things comes to that, but for now it will continue to retain its Plan B status.

14 thoughts on “A Fun Distraction

  1. I know you’ve already scrapped this, but you could also camp at the National Parks. That would save a fair amount, I would think.

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    1. We would only camp if we had an RV. Although we enjoy camping, there is no way we would tent or car camp for that period of time (we wanted to take 2+ years). We priced out an RV purchase, but it was way outside our comfort zone.

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  2. We have ordered a campervan for our year off. It isn’t cheap but can’t see our govt letting us out before 2023. It is fun peering over maps and considering towns on the route. It’s definitely going to cost more than if we’d spent 3 months overseas. I just didn’t want to do the figures and not buy it.

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    1. I think your government is pretty smart. It’s frustrating, but there are still far too many unknowns about how this whole pandemic is going to play out worldwide. Hot spots keep flaring up all over the place and the possibility of a re-emergence with one of the variants is all too possible. Anyway, you would think a camper/RV would make a trip more affordable, but that wasn’t the case at all once you added in gasoline, nightly fees, payment, etc.

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      1. And when you add the cost of the campervan, it far outweighs cost of everything, included long haul flights. But I do look forward to long weekends away when back at work too.

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      2. That’s what we discovered, that the purchase of a camper made the whole thing unaffordable. In our situation, we would have never been able to leave the U.S. again – no trips to Japan to see family, for example – and that was too much of a price to pay.

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  3. Just curious if you included selling the car at the end of the trip. Also did you already share your big adventure plans, maybe I missed that post but wondering if that plan is cheaper because trains are available?

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  4. It is always prudent to have a plan B in place. I suspect that although the pandemic may come to an end at some point, we may see future lockdowns in different regions of the world, which if they happen where you travel may prompt you to leave immediately and unexpectedly. Similar to when you left Japan.
    Since you’re just bouncing ideas around, here are a couple of things that popped into my head after reading your post.
    1.I read a couple of days ago that IKEA sells now little homes. If you google it, you’ll find more information about it.
    2.There is a YouTube channel called Growing Up Without Borders. This family with 3 girls has traveled the world for years and they were caught by the pandemic in South Asia. I think you’ll find it useful to watch how they navigated the lockdowns. I believe people learn from each other, so you may find something there that’s helpful to prepare for the future.

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    1. I did not know that about IKEA – thank you! Definitely going to check out their little homes. And, I also thank you for the YouTube recommendation – it’s been bookmarked. I believe the virus is going to affect travel for years going forward – travel will happen, but there will be new rules, and shutdowns popping up as the virus flares when new variants arise and so forth. Travel is never again going to be what it was in the past.

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  5. I always assumed traveling by RV would be cheaper, but when you first mentioned you were considering traveling around the US as your Plan B, I researched it and was surprised that it’s not cheaper at all. You can rent RVs and I also looked into that but it was also very expensive and not like renting a car. Most car rental companies give you unlimited miles, but RV rentals do not.

    You said you don’t like having a car and it is very freeing for you, but I would feel lost without a car. I guess it depends on where you live though. If you’re only staying in a location for a month or two and it’s centrally located, then I guess you wouldn’t need one. If you found that you did need one, you could always rent.

    Question: you said if you decided to do this, you would set up residency in Washington. Is there a reason you chose that state?

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    1. I think if someone gave us an RV it would be cheaper, but otherwise it’s not. They are also prone to problems as they grow older as well. When we used to camp with the girls, the RV owners complained every year about their repairs, storage, etc.

      One of the things we loved during our travels was not owning a car; same for our summer in Portland. Public transportation worked fine for us, and we rented a car when necessary. When we were in England we became friends with an elderly man in our village who rode the bus – we looked forward to seeing each other and always had a chat when we did. Anyway, it was very freeing not to own a car and all that goes along with it. We have to have one here because of the distances and rural nature of Kaua’i, but when we’re visiting urban areas we can do without.

      Washington has no state income tax, low cost car registration, and we can get a mailbox with a real address (not a post office box). We can register to vote there. The sales tax is high though.

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  6. What an eye-opening exercise! Gosh I hope the world can open up safely by 2023. I live in a town where 85% of eligible recipients have received at least one vax and a state that was the first to hit 50% of eligible be totally vaccinated. I heard on NPR today that only 38% of USA has been completely vaccinated. The situation in India is very concerning.

    Recently I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of watching YouTubers who live “van life” or RV life. One of my favorites is Van Wives about two Canadian women who have been living in a Mercedes Sprinter van for two years. They have a shower and a composting toilet in the van. They park for free most nights and rave about an app called ioverlander http://ioverlander.com/ where they find camp sites and other amenities for their van life. They made it as far as Guatemala before the pandemic hit.

    Not sure if this has any appeal to you but here’s a link to their channel and the video where they give a tour of their van: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73d8lC0StsM&t=2s

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    1. So many are starting to travel now, but we still feel it’s best to wait until next year at the earliest. Hopefully by 2023 the world will have opened up, or at least most of it, but I think going forward there are always going to be shutdowns and hotspots popping up all over the world because of the variant strains of the virus. Travel is never going to be the same.

      A life on the road seems very freeing and romantic on the one hand (and would be for a while), and yet Brett and I realize the expense of RV ownership would be a trap for us.

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