How We're Doing It

One of the most frequent questions I think we're asked when we tell people what we're doing is, "How are you doing that?"

That's a really vague question, first of all. But the whole point of a public blog like this is (besides quelling the anxiety of our friends and family while we're so far away) to share with others--whether they are doing it already or hoping to do something like it--how we're pulling it off.

Rather than burying all this information in a dozen different blog posts (though there will always be that), we thought we'd make a page to more easily peruse.

The "Microcamper"




Here is the blog post where Andrew details constructing the car situation, and updates are to come as we continue tweaking it.

There is a video tour at the bottom of the page in the link!

The Packs

I believe at this point in our lives, between the two of us, we have about six Osprey backpacks to our name. We couldn't bring all of them with us... but we did bring our his-and-hers Osprey Atmos 65 and Osprey Aura 65 AG heavy-duty packs. Andrew acquired his Atmos nearly 8 years ago before his very first big trip, and I don't think they even carry it in that color anymore, but I've had my Aura for only a couple of years. 

We were gifted some sweet Daylite packs for our wedding, coordinated with our power colors, and these are used for day hikes and just being tourists.

Lastly, I needed a purse better designed for travel use. I found this Travelon crossbody bag on Amazon and I'm OBSESSED. It's got a clip on the top zipper to prevent pickpocketing but mostly it's the perfect size to carry my kindle, wallet, phone, keys, pocket blanket, etc. And so cheap! I'll probably use it forever.


We're millennials, so let's talk about tech

Both of us set out with Google Pixel phones (the first generation) on the Google Fi network. On Fi, you pay for what you use, and it works seamlessly in most other countries, so we didn't have to worry about losing data or service after leaving the US. However, it is expensive if you use a lot of data, so we're hopping between Fi and European phone plans to save money. 

(This Google phone has been my very first venture away from an iPhone since, ever, so I'm relieved that I'm liking it. The best part about using a Google product is how seamlessly it uses Drive, Photos, Gmail, and all the other Google things I was already using. The downside is, of course, no iMessage.) 

We have also brought a USB Type C portable battery charger. We use it probably every day. It was a necessity during car camping, and we take it with us on day outings since we rely so heavily on our phones for navigation and photo-taking. And speaking of charging things... if you're going international like we are, don't forget a universal outlet adapter. If you've never been abroad before, it's easy to overlook that different countries have different shaped plugs and outlets!

Our theme for birthday gifts in 2018 was a Kindle Paperwhite for each of us, plus of course the personalized, homemade artwork on the covers. I would describe to you the selling points of this product, but we are probably the last people on Earth to jump on the Kindle train. (I will honestly miss my Book of the Month subscription; I love pretty hardcover books...)  

Finally, because we're relying so heavily on the Internet (this blog, WorkawayCouchsurfing, mobile banking, etc.) we wanted more than our phones to type and things, but we're also on a tight budget and don't want to carry a whole lot around. We've settled on an older, refurbished Macbook as our travel companion. It was cheap(ish) because it wasn't new, but it charges using USB Type C, like our phones do, so we can minimize the number of cables we lug along, and it's small and even more lightweight than my old Macbook Air.

Blogging at our hostel in Florence.

But what will we wear!?

Because yeah, we'll be gone for about a YEAR, and we're going through American deserts, winter in Paris, spring in the British Isles, and at least some time in Ecuador and Mexico. We sure made it easy to plan for climates, didn't we?

A few things got edited out of the final packing list...


The plan includes some variability. We'd be kidding ourselves if we think the hiking boots we have now will last the whole time, or that we'll want to keep our heavy winter gear as we move into warmer countries. There will be some shipping home of things we can't use anymore, and purchasing new things when the circumstances change. But here's what we're starting with:

Jill

Luckily, being a smaller person than Andrew, many of my clothes pack down smaller than his, which is good because I'm also more likely to want more variety to choose from than he will. 

I've brought with me 2 Smartwool long-sleeve shirts. (Merino wool is great because it's warm and doesn't get as smelly as other fabrics when you wear it a lot.) These are very outdoorsy but can pass in civilization for a normal-ish shirt. I've also got 2 camisoles, because I'm a girl who loves to layer, and a few light t-shirts. I have a quarter-zip Padagonia, and a gray zip-up hoodie for when it's chilly. 

Pants are tricky, my friends! In my normal life, I have a million different pant options for all variables in outfit needs. For this trip, II have 2 different wash jeggings (the kind that could actually pass for jeans), some thermal leggings (with phone pockets on the thighs!), and actual denim jeans for Workaways. I accidentally melted my hiking pants on our host's stove in Italy, but they weren't as helpful as I'd hoped in the beginning anyway. I also brought my stretchy black shorts for sleeping or wearing under the one t-shirt dress I have. Though my pack is bulging, I brought a soft gray sweater and long-sleeve casual dress that I may or may not keep long-term, and bought a turtleneck and more street-appropriate coat in Paris when I realized my first packing list wasn't cutting it once we left life in the woods.

Andrew

Andrew has brought a similar array of options for clothing. His challenge is that, being a larger person, his clothes take up more space and weigh more, particularly his Workaway outfits. For working, he was gifted an awesome pair of pants from our Swiss hosts, and a mid-weight flannel that can layer. He's pretty much a walking Prana advertisement with the rest of his pants: his lightest pair got a burn hole near the bottom of the leg, so he cut and hem them into capris a couple of years ago; his everyday pant is a nice charcoal gray, and he's bringing a pair of jeans. (My mom gets a yoga teacher discount, so it's Prana pants for Christmas every year for Andrew!) He also threw in a pair of light running shorts that can double as sleeping shorts (and triple as swim trunks).

Similar to me, he's bringing a few t-shirts, a long-sleeve cotton henley, and 2 base layers (one is merino wool and another is tech fabric from Patagonia). Topping off the wardrobe is a red plaid wool sweater, and light gray crewneck warm layer for cold Workaways (that I love to steal).

Footwear

What you put on your feet is no small thing. We know we're going to go through a few footwear items throughout the year. I have a pair of Kodiak hiking boots--the Surrey II's, and Andrew has the same model of Oboz he's been buying for years. As lighter walking shoes, I just got a cheap pair of New Balances from Marshall's, and Andrew picked up a pair of Lems Boulder Boots that are super lightweight and packable. I had a pair of Earth Origins sandals on the road trip, but got rid of them when we left for Europe as they were too heavy and I wasn't using them enough.

A couple of years ago Andrew treated me to a pair of Blondo heeled booties that I can't seem to let go, so I'll carry those around for when I want to feel cute and trendy until I decide they aren't worth the space and weight!

Jackets and Coats

We are die-hard down puffy fans. I've got my bright turquoise one so Andrew doesn't lose me, and he got his Arc'teryx on major sale a couple years ago. My rain shell is, again, the bright blue REI brand I've had for ages, and Andrew just picked up his new one from the REI outlet. Once we were actually traveling, we both realized we regret our outerwear for a few reasons, so learn from our mistakes: choosing colors that are dark and neutral is better (read: not turquoise or bright blue), updating an old rain shell is always a good idea (I have gotten so soaked because the membranes in mine aren't so good anymore), and Workaway requires slightly heavier-duty coats than the fragile down-puffies. If we were to do this again, we'd make our warm coats more durable, and have ultra-light rain shells.

The rain jacket did not do its job this day.


The weird stuff you don't think about

We've each got a travel towel that packs down into its own little bag, and we have 3 different sized ditty sacks each for sorting socks, underwear, dirty laundry, etc. Toiletries were an adventure to pare down... but Amazon has some great travel-size products like a mini hair straighteners and travel brushes. Last time we traveled out of our backpacks they were just small enough to be carry-ons, but this time we'll check our bags for our flights so we don't have to be so concerned about how many liquids and gels we have, though we have our refillable travel tubes for shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. We won't be showering as frequently as normal, so dry shampoo, face wipes, and deodorant are key.

For bedding in the car, we went a little overboard before departing. We had regular sheets on our camper mattress, and three pillows between us, plus a fleece comforter, two small sleeping bags, a two-person sleeping bag rated down to below freezing, a Pendleton wool blanket (aesthetic), and a personalized throw blanket gifted to us for our wedding. (Thanks, Nana and Grandad!) This was too much. But I love blankets. In the end we found we layer our sheets with the fleece comforter and one half of the double sleeping bag, and kept the Pendleton and throw blanket for sitting outside in the evening. The other bags ended up staying in the top carrier the whole time.

Here is also our endorsement for Gorilla tape! It's amazing. We love it, and used it all the time. We also had a little kit in the car with scissors, some first aid items, hand sanitizer, zip ties, mini-bungee cords, etc. and pretty much all of it came in handy. 

Where to sleep?


For the road trip, we broke the two months up pretty well with family visits versus car camping. Living in a Honda Element full-time is HARD, folks, and we have so much respect for people who do it. We certainly enjoyed it, but it was SO nice to have breaks where the indoor bathroom is just down the hall in the middle of the night...

When we were camping though, there were a few sleeping options we employed depending on where we were:

- National parks, BLM land, etc: Most of these areas either allow free camping, or have a plethora of "dispersed campgrounds" which are also free. These sites don't have amenities, but we had just about everything we needed, so these were our first pick.

- Casinos: We discovered on some RV forums that there are a number of casinos around the country that allow overnight RV parking. We tried Three Rivers on the Oregon coast during our first week and it was a pleasant experience. We had to register a player's card, but for the first night they don't require you to gamble at all, and we got a special slip with security so they knew we were there.

- Cheap or free camping advised by Campendium, a site we used a ton.

- Secluded city streets: Portland was a very comfortable place to do this, because the vanlife culture is so strong and it is not illegal to sleep in your car. As long as you are in a parking spot that allows overnight parking, aren't blocking residents' parking/someone's driveway, and are discreet (for example, not sitting on your tailgate brushing your teeth or putting on pajamas) you are good to go. It's important to brush up on the local laws for the cities you want to visit, though, as sleeping in your car is illegal in many places.

Dispersed (free!) camping about 4 minutes outside the Grand Canyon National Park.

In the car, as the nights got cold, we began venturing into Airbnb's "private room in a home" option, which means instead of the whole place to yourself, you are renting a bedroom out of a home the host is actively living in. This can be so cheap, and is different from Couchsurfing because of the money exchanged, but does put you more in contact with strangers.

Our first time Couchsurfing together was on the road trip (shoutout to Juan!) but we've also done it abroad now. The key is finding hosts with lots of feedback and personable profiles. Couchsurfing is a great way to both save money (you stay for no monetary cost), but also meet locals--often your host will be interested in showing you around! However, unlike Airbnb where the money exchange frees you up to keep to yourself, with Couchsurfing it's generally expected you'll hang out with your host, cook a meal or two for them, (cultural exchange!) etc. This is frequently part of the perk :)

One of Juan's kitties we got to snuggle, Couchsurfing near Memphis.


Workaway is one of the more challenging but most rewarding forms of travel; stays with hosts are often much longer-term than Couchsurfing, as it's almost not worth it for either party if you're there less than 3 weeks, but you get access to so much more cultural exchange and learning about the local area than almost any other way. See the blog post about Workaway here.

When we need a little time to ourselves and the budget allows, we use Airbnb to get places that have full kitchens; cooking your own meals saves a TON of money while traveling.

We are also using our Chase Sapphire Reserve card on travel expenses like flights, train rides, Airbnbs, etc. to rack up the points--finding a credit card with awesome travel rewards can be super helpful (if you keep paying off the balance right away!). Not only does this card give you $300 in travel-related cash back, but it includes insurance for rental cars and some emergency coverage, and a Priority Pass for airport lounges. We've been able to redeem points on things like our hotel in Venice, which was technically out-of-budget if we'd used our pocket cash.

Getting Around Abroad

With all of our tricks for cheap accommodations, by far the most expensive part of traveling is moving between places. 

Easily our most frequently used option has been Flixbus (who actually just contacted us about sharing one of our photos on their social media, probably because we tag them so often). Buses take longer than trains or flights, but they are always cheaper. 



We only take trains when the time saved is worth the extra cost (our train from Nardó to Venice was pricey, but only took 9 hours compared to the 18 it would have on a bus). 

We use the Google Flights feature for finding flights. Our biggest tips for finding cheap flights are 1) be flexible about your dates (sometimes leaving a day or two earlier or later than your first choice can save you hundreds) and 2) always try to fly in and out of major airports (small airports almost always cost more). Oh, and be okay with budget airlines. A little less leg room and no snacks is often worth it. While most of us back in the States associate European trips with hefty airline costs, Andrew and I bought our one-way tickets to Paris from NYC for...wait for it...$400 for the both of us. You just gotta play the game!

Navigating Visas

We can give you our own tips here, but ultimately working around visas has to do with the country you hold a passport in, and which countries you want to visit, so it's incredibly variable. 

With a majority of our trip happening in Europe, we were most concerned with how to be there. We aren't students, and we don't have work, and our research found that it's hard to get permission to be in Europe long-term any other way, so we're working with tourist visas. American tourist visas allow you to be in the Schengen region--the cohort of countries that allow free travel--for 90 days out of a 180 day period. After the 180 day period, it all resets. We decided, to keep things simple, to just do our 90 days all at once. We arrived in France at the beginning of December, so we left Italy by the end of February to be safe. We won't return to any Schengen countries until June, but will explore Eastern Europe, Ireland, and the UK. Countries are trying to join all the time, so you have to do your research before you travel. Around mid-June we will be allowed to be in the Schengen area for another 90 days.

As tourists, we can be in Ecuador for up to 90 days and in Mexico for 180, so we won't have any problem staying within their requirements.


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