We are three days away from being back in Canada. After 191 days, 56 distinct stops, one accident, one flat tire and one possible concussion, we are ready to bring this trip to an end and get off the road for a while. We drove over 22,000 kilometres.
We know that after a few weeks, we will be restless and ready to go again. That is our new reality – the blessing and the curse of being unhoused means that “wherever we lay our hat that’s our home.” Every new home feels exciting.
We chose to stop in Las Vegas for a three-night respite before the long drive north. We had a wonderful time here in November with our friends and we were craving space, comfort and relaxation. The Tuscany Suites are set on several lushly landscaped acres a 15-minute walk from The Strip. Our room is 600 square feet, compared to our 120-square-foot trailer.
It was too cold to use the pool in November, but with temperatures in the low 30s in April, this was a different scene.
Back in November those fire pits were lit and warming; we met our friends here each morning for coffee.
After we left Vegas in November, I had no desire to return. I realize Vegas needs to be accepted and enjoyed for what it is, but the ability to do that escapes me. I still see the ugliness, excess and wretched souls. Hustlers, jittery addicts, rock-bottom street prostitutes, aging C-list performers and the endless swath of tourists – it feels jarring to be here.
So back to what we wanted to share with you all – the gritty details.
I’ll begin with what you really want to know – how much did this cost us?
Insurance. Costs vary tremendously depending upon age and duration of stay, but our insurance for six months in Mexico and the U.S. (we’re both over 65) = $1700 (with a $5000 deductible)
Mexican car insurance – 2 months – we overpaid (long story) = $850
The U.S. dollar costs roughly $1.35 – $1.38, which means everything cost at least one-third more. The difference for four months in the U.S.? = $5000
Food, accommodation & misc. – this figure is a moving target, as it will be affected by the type of campground you choose, whether you cook or eat out, if you take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon, etc.
Since we follow a fairly strict budget, we tend to cook most of our meals and to stay away from the luxury RV parks. With the cost of campgrounds, groceries, wine and beer, restaurant meals, firewood, laundry, three oil changes for the truck, museum and entry fees, we averaged $120 a day. We never felt as though we were skimping or doing without and if we were more adept at boondocking (camping on beaches or public lands for free or very little), that figure would have been much lower. This lovely beach in Baja was one of our best camping experiences and cost us nothing.
If you are travelling through the U.S. for any length of time, make sure you pick up an America the Beautiful card. It costs US$80 for a year and grants admission to all National Parks and National Monuments. With most of the big parks charging $30-$35 entry and the smaller ones charging $10-$20, it pays for itself very quickly.
Our grand total for travelling for 191 days through the U. S. and Mexico? $25,000
Campgrounds – reserve or take your chances?
If you want to guarantee a campsite in any of the National Parks and many of the state parks, you will need to book ahead – often six months or more. We were very lucky to snag spots in Zion and Grand Canyon, but they were last-minute cancellations and Steve happened to be online at the right time. A couple of hours later and we might have lost them.
It is a hard call – we changed our travel plans a number of times due to snow, and a few times we extended our stays because we were enjoying ourselves so much.
However, we met a couple who are on the road for a year. She booked up all the parks almost a year ago and they are simply making it work.
Campgrounds – private, public or boondocking?
We tried to stay in national or state parks as much as possible. Usually the setting is attractive, the sites are spacious and the campers are often of a similar mindset – they are there to enjoy nature and tend to be more respectful. Most sites offer dry camping or have electricity – they seldom have full hook-ups. Usually there are restrooms and showers and almost always there is a sani-dump and potable water. Occasionally, but not very often, you get wifi and cell reception. They cost from $15-$30.
The private campgrounds run the gamut from high-end costing $75 – $80 a night to more modest campgrounds that charge $30-$40. Private campgrounds almost always offer full hookups, wifi, and other amenities such as a small store, showers, laundry, firewood, book exchange, etc. We appreciated the private campgrounds when we needed to clean up ourselves and our trailer. But private campgrounds are often cheek by jowl sites with little privacy and a couple of times we had bad experiences with inconsiderate campers.
Boondocking is the way to go if you can make it work. BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands in the U.S. and the beaches of Baja are there for the taking (or for a nominal fee). In some cases, there are pit toilets, garbage cans but in the vast majority of cases, you are on your own. Once you figure out how to handle your water and waste issues, you’re all set. Drive in, pick a spot and set up camp. The camping experience is sublime – dark skies, coyotes howling, and utter peace.
We can boondock for four nights. We arrive after having emptied our grey and black water and filled our fresh water tanks. We have a six-gallon jug for our drinking water and are very careful with our fresh water usage. We have discovered we can go up to four days without a shower (never our first choice, but it is possible). After four days we need to hitch up, go to town, use a sani-dump, refill water, have showers and begin again.
Exercise on the road
Although we hiked a lot, our best intentions about maintaining a formal exercise routine quickly fell away. The excuses are easy – no space, no privacy, too cold, too hot, etc. We have a yoga mat, resistance bands, Pilates cards, and even a skipping rope. I will freely admit that Stephen is more disciplined than I, and hauling out the equipment a few times in six months does not an exercise routine make.
I have “accidental long hair”. After wearing my hair short for decades, I let my hair grow out last winter in India. Indian women have long hair and I was stymied as to where I would find a hairdresser who knew how to cut a short style. I have carried that sentiment forward as we continue to be on the road – how to maintain a style that needs tending every few weeks, without having a tragic cut? My solution was to let it grow long enough that I could pin it up. So far, I am feeling less soigné than I had hoped.
When you camp for a long time, you tend to retreat into a bubble. We are keeping good company with other campers who wander the grounds in their jammies, and brush their teeth into the bushes. It’s always a shock to come into town and see women with mascara and a color-coordinated outfit.
Sooner or later, you may require medical attention, or at least wonder if you should find a doctor.
Several weeks ago, I managed to bash my head so hard in our trailer that I literally bounced off the wall. While Stephen tried not to laugh, I sat there, tears streaming and a bit nauseous. After much online consultation, we concluded I probably gave myself a concussion, as I developed a headache, dizziness and mental wooliness that lasted for several days. If we had been in B.C., I would have gone to our doctor, but in the U.S., far from a decent hospital, I decided to wait it out. It worked out, but it did raise the question of what to do in situations that aren’t emergencies, but could turn out to be serious.
We cannot sing the praises of libraries enough. Every small town has a library that is welcoming with its great wifi and in many cases – a book sale. We have replenished our books, usually for 50 cents or $1.00, and either discovered new authors or grabbed a book we’ve been meaning to read.
Campers tend to develop a quick and easy rapport with each another. We’re all away from home, and everyone has a story. We have met such wonderful, interesting people – this is one of the highlights of this kind of travel.
The Cost of Travelling in the U.S.
We were expecting gas to be cheaper than in Canada, but it varies from state to state. California prices are almost equivalent to Canadian, while Arizona, with exchange, runs to about $1 a litre.
I was surprised by the cost of groceries. Again, I expected food to be less expensive, but in most cases found prices to be the same as in Canada or even higher. For example, fresh pesto costs $5.99 (CA $9), a loaf of bread costs $4 (CA$5.50) and Salad-in-a-bag – $4 (CA $5.50).
Cell Phone Plans: AT&T vs. Verizon
WE bought an AT&T cell plan, which was supposed to give us unlimited phone and texts in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Calls out of Mexico to Canada were problematic, and we also found access to cell towers was limited in much of Arizona.
According to many other people, Verizon has much better service and coverage.
We had a fantastic trip and would highly recommend almost every place we visited. If you are contemplating a road trip, or contemplating buying an RV, or if you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
We are back in British Columbia for a housesit on Gabriola Island, and we are looking forward to welcoming our grandson in early June. After that, we head up north to the Yukon and NWT for the summer.
Thank you for following along with us – it means a lot. See you again in July.