If you're just joining us, here's a brief rundown of what we're doing and why:
1. We have to move out of our rental house at the end of April because our landlord is selling and we aren't in a position to buy.
2. My husband and I both work from home, and our kids are homeschooled. Ergo, we can technically live anywhere.
3. Since we are not bound by a lease, a mortgage, or job/school locations, we've decided to pare down our belongings, store our major must-keeps, and take our life on the road for a year. We will live like we do now (working and schooling), only from furnished rental homes all over the country. In our down time, we'll explore wherever we are and spend time with friends and family who live afar.
4. Because we can. And because we might be slightly insane.
Some of you lovely folks put forth some questions about our plans on my Facebook page. Here they are, in no particular order.
Q's and A's about Our Big Digital Nomad Trip
Are the kids helping with the planning?
If by "helping with the planning" you mean whining and complaining about having to leave our lovely home and idyllic neighborhood, then yes, they're helping. :)
No, honestly, they really don't have much of a say in where we're going at this point. We don't really either, for that matter. Much of our itinerary is being determined by budget, which I'll get into in a minute. And up to now, all of the planning has pretty much been me sifting through rental websites - not really something they can help with. But once we're on the road, they'll help a lot with deciding what places we'll explore.
How will you stay sane? No, really, I mean how will each person get enough alone time? I'm assuming you won't be staying in houses everywhere you go.
We will actually be staying in furnished condos, for the most part. They'll be small - generally two bedrooms, sometimes three. But I think we'll be okay as far as space goes. I'm the queen of needing alone time, so I really value the importance of having some space to get away. But even in the 2700 square foot house we're in now, I find it difficult to truly get away unless I leave the house. I'm like a kid magnet.
I'm actually more concerned about staying sane during the long car rides. Our first destination is a 30-hour drive. So I'm collecting ideas for keeping the moppets happy in the car. (Pass them along if you have any.)
What is your budget for this trip?
I'm glad you asked. I'm sure when people hear about our plans they probably imagine we're a wealthy family who has the means to travel the country for a year.
We're not wealthy. We're not destitute, of course, but we're sitting solidly in the middle-class, still fully in the 15% tax bracket as far as income goes. One of the main reasons we decided to go on this adventure is because we figure it'll give us an opportunity to travel without spending much extra money beyond our normal expenses.
Let me explain:
Living in our area of the Chicago suburbs, renting a nice 3- or 4-bedroom house, including all utilities and expenses, costs us approximately $2000 a month. Before you freak out one way or the other, let me just point out that for some of you that amount might seem crazy high and for others it might sound crazy low. One thing I've learned moving around a lot is that housing costs differ massively from one place to another. We could rent a smaller place for a couple hundred dollars cheaper, and a nicer place for a little or a lot more than that. But $2000 with all utilities and housing-related expenses included is a reasonable amount to budget for housing here.
So that's what we're budgeting for housing on our trip. Actually, we're budgeting more like $1800, since storage will cost about $180 per month and we're including that in our housing budget.
However, that $1800/mo for rental homes is our monthly average over the course of our year. The summer rentals are significantly higher than that, and the winter places will be significantly lower. Our most expensive place is a 3-bedroom condo in Seattle - $2700 for 3 weeks in July. Ouch. But July is expensive no matter where you go. Believe, me, I spent a lot of time trying to find our July place. (And $90 a night for a 3-bedroom condo, including taxes, is still pretty darn tootin'.)
And those expensive summer places will be offset during the off-season. The places we're looking at for the winter are $700 - $800 per month. I'm looking right now at a house in Michigan that would be $1000/month for September and October. Cape Cod, Myrtle Beach, Florida - all super cheap November through March. So on average, we should easily come out within our housing budget.
Gas costs, of course, are going to be higher than our normal expenses, so we'll have to factor that in. I'm thinking that the money we make from the stuff we're selling as we pare down our belongings will help with gas costs. And any costs that go over that will be considered vacation expense.
Food might fall into that category sometimes. Since all of the places we're staying will have full kitchens, we'll just shop and cook and eat like we normally do. I'm sure there will be some extra eating out during our long drives, but we have so many dietary issues in our family that eating out is often more of a pain than it's worth. I anticipate keeping a cooler and a bin in the car for foodstuffs, so we'll be able to take extra spices or leftover food with us from place to place. With some careful planning, I'm hoping that food won't be too much of an issue.
The only other major expense we'll have is attractions, which will be a bit tricky to navigate. We have a museum pass that gets us reciprocal admission to all kinds of museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums, so we'll be able to use that for a lot of exploring. And I'm big on finding free places. I plan on hitting as many state and national parks as we can.
Another consideration is that the kids won't be taking any classes or be in any extracurricular activities. We normally would have them in some sort of outside class or sport or something, so not having to pay for those frees up a bit of cash for exploration.
Will The Muse be able to keep up with her music lessons while on the road?
The Muse and music lessons could take up a whole other post. (Sigh) Right now, she's not taking any lessons. She took the summer off, and then we started searching for a new teacher that was closer to our house. We weren't having any luck finding a good fit, and then we decided to do this trip, so it seemed silly to hire someone for just a few months. I've now found a couple of teachers who teach online, but I'm not sure yet how we're going to proceed. So yes, there are options. We just haven't come to any decisions yet. I still have her keeping to a practice schedule so that her skills don't take too much of a beating.
Will you base your lesson plans on your location?
Lesson plans? What are those? :) Yes, we'll definitely incorporate the history and geography of wherever we are into our learning. I'm also bringing our basic curriculum materials, and we're moving some of our subjects to online/digital resources. (Honestly, we could almost exclusively homeschool using just the computers, the Kindle, and the iPad, but I'm still desperately clinging to pen and paper. So we're striking a balance as far as that goes.) But one of the major perks of this trip is getting to see historical places first hand, so yes, we'll be basing our American history and geography (and likely nature/science studies) on wherever we are.
How will you handle the tremendous amount of guilt you will most certainly feel upon leaving behind your loved ones, especially those who have been with you through thick and thin?
Gee, I wonder who could have asked this question . . .
Oh, P-Diddles. You know I'll miss you. :)
I don't feel guilty about our trip, but I do feel a bit conflicted about moving on to a different chapter in our lives. We don't know where we'll be settling when this trip is over, so it's hard to know how to feel. We may very well end up coming back here, so we're not saying any goodbyes or anything.
Are you coming my way?/Why isn't Texas on the itinerary?
We're getting a lot of requests to go various places, and I so wish we could go everywhere! Texas may very well end up on the itinerary - we don't know where we'll be in March yet. We'll let people know as we're traveling through different areas of the country, and hopefully we can at least meet up briefly with some of you! And if anyone wants to offer us a place to stay, we'll go out of our way to take you up on it. :)
What is your ideal end result for each of you to take away with you from this trip?
Gosh, this is such a great question, and one I've thought about a lot. As it gets closer, I want to discuss it more with the rest of the family as well to see what they're thinking. So I'll share everyone else's thoughts later. But here's what I'm hoping for myself and for the family:
1. I want to build strong, interesting family memories. It's so easy to just let time go by and not have our days marked by something significant or new. This trip will be a benchmark in our family's collective memory, as well as our own individual life stories. I love that.
2. I hope that we will all see that we don't need much to be happy and live well. All we're taking with us is what will fit in the car and in a car top carrier. I love that we'll be focusing on experiences and not things, and I'm hoping that value will stick.
3. I hope we'll get to appreciate different landscapes, cultural nuances, and lifestyles as we travel the country. I want us to experience regional differences and similarities, enjoy the wildly diverse natural beauty America has to offer, and explore places we didn't even know existed.
4. I hope my kids will gain enough exposure to adversity that they'll understand that a 30-hour car ride is not the worst thing that could happen to them. :)
No, really I hope they'll understand why we chose to take this trip. Right now, the girls are a bit reticent to leave their friends and the neighborhood they've really fallen in love with. I hope they'll learn that "home" is where your family is - the rest is just geography.
Let me know if you have any other questions, and I'll keep you posted as it all comes together.