Lost & Found in New Orleans

Originally posted as the final entry on our blog The Rolling Homestead (Sept. 24, 2015)

Earlier this year, when we made the brave decision to leave apartment life behind and travel full-time in a 22-foot camping trailer named Scotty, we never expected to find ourselves back to “normal” so soon. We envisioned lazy mornings reading books over coffee, days filled with adventure and exploration, and evenings roasting marshmallows by a campfire, as we leisurely traversed the US from Florida to California.

That vision was short-lived. During the 3 months that we lived in our camper, we tackled all manner of problems while I continued to work my full-time job. Flat tires, electrical failures, a busted sewage cart, a fridge that was only cold at the top, ants in the cabinets, spiders in the shower, mosquito bites, squirrels hiding nuts in the air conditioner, and a touchy hot-water heater…were just a few of the things that became a part of our daily life. Our “big dream” quickly became less about adventure and more about just trying to survive each day without incident.

Shortly after our budget meeting in August, we sat down to really talk about what we wanted out of life and whether living in a camper was accomplishing that. When we went back to our original goal (save money on living expenses and put that savings toward travel), it was easy to see that we were taking the most complicated route to achieve it. But even still, we weren’t ready to give up. We felt like a tipping point was sure to come and we’d surely coast into better times.

Nola TentThat tipping point did come – in New Orleans – when midway through our tent camping trip, with my tired body covered in sweat and bug bites, I had a complete meltdown. Why were we sleeping in a tent in the height of summer in what could easily pass for the nastiest place in America? Because we couldn’t travel in our travel trailer! For all the hard work and money we had already put into her, Scotty just wasn’t ever going to make it out of Tennessee.

I have no regrets about our misadventure (except perhaps New Orleans) and I truly believe the lessons learned were necessary ones. At some point, I’ll probably reflect on what those lessons were but for now, we’re busy moving forward. We have rented a small apartment (475 sq. feet) in my hometown. It is near my mom. It is also near my sister and her family, which includes my amazing 12-year-old nephew, my niece and her brand new baby girl. Our apartment is an area undergoing gentrification so our neighbors are a mix of interesting characters, some good, some not so much.

A tiny apartment, a crew of oddball neighbors, a reconnected family, and two very weary travelers trying to live the simple life amongst the chaos…yep, that sounds like the beginnings of a new adventure to me!

Reality Check: Cheap Living is Expensive!

Trip to Discount Tire
Luckily we were able to find the equivalent size for Scotty’s aged tires at Discount Tire, where it took them less than 30 minutes to install them.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve had some real ups and downs, which at times has made me wonder (again) what on Earth we’re doing living in this tiny metal box. The things that I worried myself silly over (like getting new tires) turned out to be easy. The things that I thought would be easy (like using the campground’s wi-fi) turned out to be so difficult I wanted to scream. Actually, I think I did scream.

The KOA North Nashville is a great place. The staff is super friendly and helpful, the location is perfect, and the amenities are terrific when you can use them. They take some pretty good precautions to keep people from hogging the internet (like limited codes and speed throttling) but that doesn’t stop the more savvy RVers (ourselves not yet included) from being able to get around them and watch Netflix all day long. Since I still have to work, I need the internet to operate reasonably well and that just doesn’t happen when the enabled devices on the network include a half dozen Roku boxes.

One day we decided to go to the library. It was closed. So we went to the food court in the mall instead. Their wi-fi was out. Oy!

A few of our "neighbors" at the KOA.
A few of our neighbors at the KOA. We felt even tinier sitting next to these big rigs.

We do have two internet hotspot devices. One operates on the Sprint network, the other on AT&T, but I try to limit their usage to just places where wi-fi is not available. I didn’t think the KOA was going to be one of those places. In all, we spent about $75 on internet data in July – not including our cell phones. That’s a bit more than I planned but then again, almost all of our expenses in July were more than I planned. For anyone thinking of full-time RVing, I would say this: the first few months are expensive so plan accordingly. Between necessary upgrades, repairs, supplies, campground stays, and general living expenses, we’ve spent nearly $5,500 in our first two months. We’re CHEAP so realizing we’d spent that much money was a shock (and another of those moments when you reconsider what you’re doing).

On Sunday, after filling up on pancakes and clearing our heads with coffee, we had the dreaded budget meeting. With Excel spreadsheet in hand, we went through each and every category and came to some very interesting conclusions.

  1. We paid $69 more per week to stay at the KOA over a nearby state park simply because it offered free wi-fi.
  2. We are paying approximately $15 per GB of hotspot data on Sprint and $10 on AT&T.
  3. Our grocery and household expenses cost three times as much as they ever did in our apartment.
  4. Campground fees in July were no cheaper than our previous rent.
  5. Gas was way less than we expected, considering we went on several 100+ mile day trips. (I threw that in lest you think it was all negative.)

For the month of August, we’re implementing a few cost cutting measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of this adventure.

  1. We’ve set a cap on campground fees – no more than $25 per day.
  2. We have two library days planned into the calendar each week to cut down on data usage and we’ve decided to skip using the more expensive Sprint hotspot, except in the case of an emergency. We also turned off all of the apps on my computer and set the hotspot usage to metered. This is supposed to reduce data usage as well.
  3. We will get back on track with meal planning and shopping will be done once a week from a list (just like when we lived in a regular home).
  4. There will be no “looking around” in Walmart. Though we’re not spendthrifts, we always seem to find things that we don’t really need but would make life in the RV more organized, easier, etc. when we just kill time in Walmart.

I sincerely hope that August is a more normal month as far as expenses go. Knock on wood – we should not have any more repairs left to do so perhaps we can focus on the more fun parts of this adventure.