Van Life Diary – January 2019 Edition – lolglobetrotting is spending 2019 on the road, living out of a van and experiencing as much as we can! We want to hike every national park mountain peak, snorkel the heck out of every amazing swimming hole, camp on the countryside, and share the whole journey with you! We are going to create a page from scratch every month to share the journey
Where We’ve Gone
Prior Lake, MN — Wisconsin Rapids, WI — Shawnee National Forrest, IL — Nashville, TN — Great Smoky Mountains National Park — Charleston, SC — Savannah, GA — Ocala National Forest (Silver Glen Springs, FL) — Everglades National Park — Key Largo, FL — Key West, FL
- We’ve spent over 48 hours on USA highways and freeways – including stopping at Mile 0 in Key West!
- Julie has peed her pants twice so far. For anyone who had the over on 1.5 times in the first month: congratulations!
- We’ve seen gas prices ranging from $1.79/gal in Southern Illinois to $2.99/gal in Nashville
- Somehow we’ve seen more crocodiles (5) than alligators (2) in Florida. We’ve been able to avoid the mini-golf courses all over Florida typically populated by 300 gators and a few turtles
- Our two biggest expenses on the road have been Gas and Food. Camping/parking and Maintenance have been minimal, fingers crossed that trend continues!
- Cribbage Scores – what started as a pathetic showing from Julie (Zach winning 3 of the first 4 with 2 skunks) has really turned around She’s won 4 of the last 6 and is ON FIRE with the cards. Last game, she saw took Zach for a walk (literally) and rubbed his face in some roadside shit (not literally) on her way to a convincing victory. Official Score:
- Zach: 5 wins (2 skunks)
- Julie: 5 win (1 skunks)
- Rummy 500 Scores – Zach is off to a hot start with a commanding lead in Rummy. His aggressive style of play has worked out thus far, but is sure to bite him in the butt in games moving forward. This could get interesting, folks. Official Score:
- Zach: 3 wins
- Julie: 0 wins
Blogs from the Road Trip
Van Life Budget
We budgeted $1500 for all of our expenses for our first month on the road. This included lodging, gas, food, entertainment, and more!
Our goal was to spend a total of $10 per day on food, stay in a campground only 3 times, and stop for gas less than 12 times! Did we meet them? You’ll have to read the blog to find out!
Here’s one giveaway: our budget for month 2 is MUCH less than it was for month 1. We think that over the course of the first month, we’ve developed some GREAT strategies and techniques on how to minimize costs while still maximizing fun and adventure!
Photos from Shawnee National Forrest – Illinois
Nestled right at the southern tip of Illinois, Shawnee National Forest was a wonderful place to explore on foot! The hikes are easy, and the views are incredible.
Blogs from the Road Trip
Hiking the Great Smoky Mountains
We spent a week hiking as much of the Great Smoky Mountains as we could get our hands on! Biking scenic wilderness trails, challenging mountain-top ascents, waterfall walks, the Smokys has it all!
Let us tell you all about the best hikes that the Smokys has to offer, starting with our favorite hike: Mount Cammerer. It was 11 miles, and took the better part of an entire day, but HOLY CRIPES it was worth the walk.
We had so much fun in the Smokys, there’s a reason this is the most visited National Park in America. Let us tell you why!
New Year’s Eve in Nashville
We spent one blurry night in Nashville to ring in the New Year, country style! Admittedly, this picture is the only one we took in our entire time in Nasvhille *sheepish face*.
Nashville, or Nash-Vegas to some, is a wonderful place to party. It is, however, not the best place in the world when you are balling on an extreme budget. That problem is exacerbated on New Year’s, as most bars have a ticket needed in order to even get in, let alone pay for drinks!
We weren’t about to sit around on our thumbs for New Years Eve in Nashville, especially ringing in our year on the road! So we sacked up and hit the streets. We tried every bar until we found one with live music and no cover. We found it, and we held on for dear life!
A few beers, a few dances, a few moonshine shots, and a few new friends later, it was 2019 and we were hungover and ready to take on the year. And by take on the year I mean take a bath in coffee and nap until January 2.
Favorite Picture so Far – Angel Oak Tree – Charleston, South Carolina
The Angel Oak Tree is located just outside Charleston, South Carolina, and good heavens it is worth the trip. The tree estimated to be about 400 years old, no one knows the exact age because no one in 1619 decided to write down that the Angel Oak sprouted. HUGE mistake, one of the biggest in human history perhaps.
The tree has an aura around it. It is said to be named for the angels that have appeared around the tree. We didn’t experience anything ghostly, except our translucent figures walking around in the South Carolina sun after experiencing the Midwest’s (lack of) sun for the past 3 months.
We also LOVED the Angel Oak because it was FREE! We packed a little picnic and had a fantastic time sitting beneath the sprawling branches enjoying some turkey sandwiches and throwing carrots at each other. DEFINITELY recommend this as a stop on your next trip to South Carolina!
Photos from Charleston, SC
We spent 4 days exploring Charleston and its outskirts. We absolutely loved the waterfront park, strolling along with Kobe watching the dolphins jump and seeing the bridge and aircraft carrier in the distance. The pineapple fountain in the center of the park was gorgeous!
Outside Charleston, Francis Marion National Forest, Isle of Palms Beach, and the Angel Oak Tree are must-sees for anyone visiting. All three are free to explore, and more than worth the trips!
Eating on the Road
Here’s a question we’ve gotten over and over: what are you going to eat on the road? The questions behind that question are either “are you going to starve?” or “are you going to come back 400 pounds because you eat nothing but gas station burritos and McFusions (McChicken placed BETWEEN the patties of a McDouble, try it if you haven’t…)?”.
The answer to both of those is “no”, and here’s how we’ve eaten so far.
Toughest part is eating delicious and healthy meals without breaking our modest bankroll. Our aggressive target is to spend $50 per week on food total. It seemed low right away, and we probably won’t hit it every week, but we think it is totally doable. Here’s an example supermarket receipt:
- Box of Minute Rice, Jar of thai peanut sauce
- Cans of Black Beans, Chili Beans, Corn, Diced Tomatoes
- Red Onion, Package of Mushrooms, Green Pepper
- Avocados x3, Bananas x12, Bag of clementines or oranges (or whatever fresh fruit is on sale really)
- Box of pasta, Jar of pasta sauce
- Eggs x12, Loaf of Bread
- Swiss Cheese, American Cheese, Ham, Turkey
- Box of Crackers, Jar of Peanut Butter
- 5 Tuna Packets (HOLY CRAP don’t even get us started on these. They are the PERFECT camping and hiking snack. We linked the product from Target.com but you can get them basically anywhere. They are tasty, healthy, and don’t need to be refrigerated!)
All of that comes in around $50, even well under $50 if you are keeping your eyes open for deals!
We’ve been using our kitchen just about every other day to prepare hot meals for dinner. Here’s what a typical meal looks like:
- Zach pulls out the Coleman Stovetop we got for Christmas this year, and fires it up with the giant cast-iron skillet up top.
- Julie chops up some peppers, onions, mushrooms, meat, etc.
- Pan-fry the veggies and meat for 5 minutes
- Add sauce, water, and pasta/rice. Cook for another 5-10 minutes tasting periodically
- Devour like two hungry gorillas fighting for the last banana at the gorilla-version of Thanksgiving
- Save the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch!
A Typical Breakfast
We both love eggs. A lot. Julie’s parents have a hobby farm with chickens, so eggs were a part of just about every day of her childhood. (We’d love to have our own hobby farm someday! A story for another time…)
So, how do we make eggs a part of our diets on the road? Usually in 2 ways:
- Scrambled eggs fired up in the cast-iron skillet. Probably our favorite way to eat them, and very easy to prepare.
- Hard-boiled eggs (usually prepared at the same time as the scrambled eggs! The hard-boiled eggs will hang out in our refrigerator, and we’ll have a few for breakfast each day!
We usually throw in a side of a banana and a slice of bread with avocado if we’re feeling frisky. All in all, it is probably better than the breakfasts we were having before we took off for life on the road!
Our Wagan Electric Refrigerator / Cooler. This bad boy has been a life saver when it comes to cooking on the road. We both love meat, cheese and eggs. What is tough about those things? They need to be kept cold!
This refrigerator / cooler has allowed us to keep things fresh! It runs on just 40 Watts (which is very low, a typical refrigerator uses over 100 Watts) which means we are able to power it with our solar-powered battery system.
And even better, if for some reason we have low power, we can switch the refrigerator off and it becomes a cooler! It keeps our food from getting warm and buys us time while we get more power or eat all of the perishables!
Our Cooking Skills
Our cooking skills have REALLY gotten a test on the road. It is very hard to make anything that isn’t a 1-pan recipe (meaning you don’t need 2 pans to cook a meal, everything has to be tossed into 1 pan at different times and it is all ready at the same time!).
We’re hoping to really sharpen our skills over the next few months. We are planning on having a whole army of 1-pan recipes for every type of meal: Asian, Mexican, Indian, Italian, American, Sandwiches, Burgers, Steaks, Chicken Wings, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner. You name it, we’ll know how to make it, with a cast-iron skillet in one hand and a beer in the other.
Zach’s First Book of the Month – On The Road by Jack Kerouac
Seemed fitting as a first book to read on our 2019 adventure throughout the USA. Kerouac tells of his own adventures hitchhiking and road-tripping across the land, in the form of a page-turning novel you won’t be able to put down.
Much of this book was read by candlelight before bed in the van, a method I HIGHLY recommend if possible. If not, then before bed in the warmth of your own home will be just fine!
Zach’s Second Book of the Month – The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
I bought this book about a year ago at the recommendation of a professor, but it somehow sat on the shelf until now. I can’t believe it took me so long to read this one! It is a FASCINATING look into human psychology and the power that we all have to alter our habits.
Habits affect literally every portion of your life. Whether in large ways like addiction, work performance, staying in shape, or small ways like brushing your teeth and not snacking. This book not only educates you on habits, but gives you the tools to change them!
Julie’s Book of the Month – Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
The first line of this one is: “When David Pepin first dreamed of killing his wife, he didn’t kill her himself. He dreamed convenient acts of God.” Sounds pretty morbid, but this novel takes the reader on a wild ride telling a story of love, marital dysfunction, and allergies, surprisingly…
Julie’s 2019 New Years resolution is to ‘read more’. The goal she’s set herself is to read one book a month, and this is number one for the year!
Zach’s Third Book of the Month – Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
You may have seen the movie, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading the book! Then you can tell people “I’ve read the book, it is so much better than the movie” and act proud and pretentious and better than everyone!
This is a wonderful book, Chuck Palahniuk is an amazing storyteller. So many little things in the book aren’t captured in the movie, like for instance how when the narrator is speaking there are never quotation marks. Side note, what is the main character’s name? Can you even remember?
I am Jack’s busy brain, working to remember the main character’s name.
Photos from Savannah, GA
We stopped in Savannah, Georgia for 3 days in mid-January. We explored River Street and stopped in just about every single store, and HIGHLY recommend it. Get some free samples to find out what you like and maybe pick up a souvenir or two!
We biked around the entire city looking for the bench that Forrest Gump sat on, but it wasn’t there anymore! We stopped and strolled through every park and cemetery (lots of cemeteries in Savannah) and had a blast doing it! Every single street in Savannah is picturesque and beautiful, making a city-wide stroll a must-do on your visit.
Silver Glen Springs, FL is PARADISE
Silver Glen Springs is located in the heart of Ocala National Forest and is a MUST if you visit Orlando or are road tripping through Florida. This is ESPECIALLY true in the winter months, for the…drum roll…MANATEES!
We had to swim about almost a mile to find the manatees, but OHMYGOODNESS it was so worth it. They are such gentle giants slowly making their way through the water, munching on any veggies they find along the way.
The manatees come to Florida’s springs in the winter time because the water is warm, and they basically just hang out! Wake up, swim a little, hang out with their buds, munch some grub, swim some more, sunbathe, they have a great life!
Blogs from the Road Trip
Solar Van Conversion for Under $500
We have been working on this blog for awhile, and we are very excited to share. We were able to do our entire solar setup for EXTREMELY cheap compared to some things you’ll read online.
After reading a few other blogs, it sounded like we were going to be spending a few thousand dollars, but once we rolled up our sleeves and got to work we found a lot of ways to make it cheaper!
This is really the first half of the article (what we bought). The next half of the article (how we put it together) is coming soon!
Key Largo – We Stopped and Stayed at Key Largo Farm!
On our way to Key Largo we got a call from Julie’s cousin, Steven, saying he had a friend in Key Largo he could get us in touch with! We gave his friend a call and WOW are we glad we did!
We ended up hanging out at their place, Key Largo Farm, for 3 days and had the best time with their family! 2 kids, 2 dogs (including a Great Dane whose head was bigger than Kobe), hundreds of chickens, a few goats, a peacock even, and some of the most friendly people in the world!
On day two, we took out a kayak and stand-up paddleboard to see what we could find! We ended up seeing a ray (it swam away before we could get a pic!), a bunch of fish, a few crabs, and about 5 sharks! Check out the video to see them!
Blogs from the Road Trip
Have the Time of Your Life in Key West
We spent 5 days in Key West and had the TIME OF OUR LIVES! So many fun people, amazing things to do, and ohmygoodness the weather is as good as anywhere on earth!
Quick Story: We met a couple from New York City who said they come down to Key West because NYC can get boring. Key West makes even New York City look boring!! WHAT?!?! The crazy part is, we see what they mean. Key West is incredible!
We did everything from bar hopping to jet-skiing. From playing bean bags with Canadian campers to snorkeling with Austrians! From tequila shots with locals to magic shows with tourists! Check it out on the blog, Key West should be moving up your bucket list, if it isn’t on the top already.
Those Florida Keys Sunsets
Our Key West Photo Album
End of Month 1!
Whew! That wraps up our very first month on the road! We had a blast, and learned so much along the way. Month 2 will probably involve a lot of driving, exploring more of Florida’s Springs, adventuring on the Gulf Coast, Cajun food in NoLa, and probably some marriage counseling books 😉
We can’t wait to share more of it with you!