Money Matters!

credit cards

Nobody likes talking about finances, well hardly anyone. In the USA it’s pretty taboo to even speak of money in conversation. However, in this post, I’m going to address some issues of money matters while traveling abroad and help inform you readers of what you can expect if you’re planning on visiting another country and need some cash.

If you’re up to date with technology, meaning 21st century, it’s likely that you bank online and have apps installed on your phone to monitor your credit cards and bank accounts. If you do, just make sure you’re checking all that stuff on a secured network, not an open network. People can steal your data really easily from an open network. Since we’ve been traveling out of the USA, we’ve been unfortunate enough to run into a gamut of problems with the safety feature, two-step verification for all of our accounts. I’m talking any account that holds any payment information from Hulu and Netflix to Amazon and our Banks. All of the banking apps we have on our phones these days require a two-step verification process if for some reason you lost your phone or forgot your password or changed your phone number or e-mail address. This is a great measure of security, but when traveling abroad for any extended period of time and having to do banking can often be a little stressful. For example, we have credit cards with Capital One. They have been awesome. Every time I’ve ever had to call, I don’t wait forever to talk to a live human being and they have always been able to resolve any of the issues I’ve had. The problem comes when you change your SIM card while traveling abroad and then try to login either with your fingerprint or with your password. The online system will lock you out. I actually had to set up a skype US number that I can use for all of my two-step verifications. This was $50.00 for the year. However, there are still some companies that won’t verify through a VOIP program because the phone number doesn’t have a “user account” associated with it. Meaning, the number is unregistered with any company and they can’t verify who actually owns or has possession of that phone number.

The work around? I have the app on my phone and I login from my laptop. Capital One asks to send me a verification code and they default to your US phone number, which is great… If you still have it. They give other options, one being a phone call (You can’t use skype until you update it in your account contact information) and the other being opening the app from your phone and verifying that you’re actually trying to access your account. The caveat— Don’t replace your phone and computer at the same time, then you’re shit out of luck and have to call them. I was fortunate enough to be able to verify through the app and it logged me in on my computer. From there, I went in and changed my contact info and updated with my Skype number and set it to default. The online system gave me the green light and said that I could now use that number for notifications. I still have yet to see if it will.

Our bank had the same problem. Even if you have a travel notice set with the company, if you change the SIM card in your phone, they will request a two-step verification to make sure it’s actually you trying to access your account. I love this option in theory. When I’m in Belize and I’m trying to get money from an ATM machine and the ATM says “unauthorized, contact your bank” it really puts a damper on the trip. I will usually try logging in from the app and verify the purchase, then it will allow me to withdrawal money. If it doesn’t show that I even tried to access money, I then have to call the bank and figure out what the hell is going on. Usually it’s a problem with the ATM server not communicating with our bank. This happens a lot in Guatemala. Often times the merchant’s bank is not authorized to connect to an out of country server, which is why it’s super handy to be able to access cash from an ATM. We’ve run into this problem a few times with merchants, online purchases and ATM’s. They all have different parameters they work in. In larger, more developed cities, you’ll have an easier time using a debit card for Point Of Sale purchases. In most smaller towns and villages, cash is king- still, and always.

Mint Mobile

One way we’ve been able to work around it is using Mint. You can purchase a SIM card for $5.00 USD at Best Buy. They give options for calls, SMS and Data and plans start at $300.00/year. Yes, you read that correctly. Three-Hundred dollars per YEAR. I had the 12 Gb plan and it was $130 every 3 months, but if you prepay your whole year, the cost decreases. We also don’t do a lot of streaming, so we don’t really need Unlimited data. With Mint, you pay in advance for a 3-month, 6-month or 12-month plan. The network is great and we never had a problem connecting while in the USA or Mexico. They also offer a roaming package when you leave the US. When in Canada and Mexico, the rates are very reasonable and international data can be bought in $10 or $20 packages. They charge you per minute (something like $0.02 per minute and something Similar per Mb of data.) Our data, phone and SMS service in Mexico went far. I never had to recharge my international roaming balance while we were there for the month. Once you’re out of Canada or Mexico, Mint still works, but the cost increases significantly. You can really burn through your data on the plan, so if you want to use it and are going somewhere else outside of the US, Canada and Mexico, make sure you turn off your roaming data. Then you can turn it on when you really need to access it. We are still able to use the Mint SIM, but I’ve opted to put it into our Verizon jetpack MiFi. This way I can still receive texts for the two-step verification and I don’t use any data, so I’m not spending a ton of money trying to keep my balance in the black. We’ve tried using Verizon and getting the daily package, but it’s expensive and nearly NEVER works. You’ll have better luck with T-mobile. In Mexico, T-mobile works on the Telcel and Movistar networks. We get SIM cards for our phones in whatever country we’re in and send our new info home on a VOIP program like Viber, Skype or WhatsApp. This way we can be contacted from home and local companies and new friends can contact us on local numbers. We’ve found it very helpful to have local numbers when you’re staying abroad for an extended period. More about communications in another post later.

ATM's

No matter where you go, money matters. We don’t like carrying a lot of cash, but it’s necessary in many small towns and villages. If you don’t mind carrying cash, try to order cash from your home banking branch prior to setting out on your trip. The exchange rate is about the same as you’ll get at an ATM machine, but if you’re unfortunate enough to have a bank that charges international banking fees, the cost of withdrawing money from a foreign ATM can end up costing you a small fortune. Not even kidding. Credit cards (depending on who you use) often don’t have the international fee’s the banks charge. Check with your bank prior to take off to see if they charge international exchange rate fees. Many ATM’s in foreign countries will charge you, then you’ll get hit with the exchange fee from the bank, plus the ATM fee. If you bank with USAA or US Bank or Charles Schwab (to name a few), they don’t charge you the international fees or ATM fees or will reimburse you for all ATM fees you incur. This could save you literally hundreds of dollars for your trip, depending on how often you need to withdrawal money. I suggest pulling out as much cash as you can in a case like this, because it prevents you from having to visit the ATM as often.

What About Sex?

When we tell people that we’re traveling the world in this ambulance over the course of the next 8 years, a very common question is what we do about having our adult time and how to have sex in such open and close quarters.

The answer? It’s difficult. Constantly having to be quiet, or not move too much to avoid shaking the ambulance and waking the kid. Sometimes we send him out under a palapa in the hammock or in his own tent with the dog and his toys at night so we can have our separation. It’s not ideal, but neither is the way we are living our life to most people. We use stolen moments. For example, if we find a shower (think USA Federal and State parks), we’ll pop in there and do our business. Recently, we’ve been finding it difficult as we travel the interior of Mexico to find places to camp and spread out, so we’ve rented houses for two weeks. That has been helpful because we each have a separate room. Other than that, we make Kaden play outside until we tell him he can come back inside. Or if he’s out and about playing with other kids too busy to notice we’re not there, we take those moments. The short of it is, we find stolen moments and use them when we can. The topic comes up so often, I’ve consorted with other families doing the same thing. Some of them have actually built separate sleeping quarters for themselves away from their kids. That would be awesome, but our configuration doesn’t allow for that and many others in this lifestyle are driving vehicles smaller and more confined than us.

Another question we get is, how do we fund this trip? Are we super wealthy? The answer is: No. Not by a long shot. We have endured a great many hardships to get to where we are, as have most of the people traveling like we are. In the crash of 2006-2008, we lost everything. We lost a home to foreclosure because we moved and couldn’t sell it, changed jobs, filed for bankruptcy, had a baby and moved again to a family-oriented community. We re-built our credit and learned from the last crash, what not to do. We started watching the financial markets and looked into diversifying our investments. The thing we did have going for us was, we had always thrown money into a retirement account. Both of us had been saving for retirement. I started when I was 16, Bronson started when he was 23. When we transferred to public safety, both of us were able to use the money in our retirement accounts and roll it over to purchase an additional 5 years of service. We also took every pay raise and put that money into our retirement accounts. We looked at cost cutting around every corner, and never bought anything on credit. If we couldn’t afford to pay cash, we couldn’t afford it. Every credit card we had was always at 0% interest and would be paid off every month. We would buy things with credit cards to continue to build credit, we just never carried a balance. We’ve been living like this for the last 13 years. When we were both forced to retire, because we had already been living on so much less than we actually took in, the loss of income didn’t hit us very hard. I collect only 23% of what I was making when I was working and Bronson collects 52% of what he was making. We literally average less than 40% of our working salary, and we are still able to afford to travel around the world and not have to work.

Another question is “what about school?” The answer is: “what about it?” Having been on the road, non-stop for the last 8 months, we’ve been doing an online homeschooling program. I originally looked in to numerous state sponsored programs that were free. The problem is they require in person meetings every week and you get your homework assignments for the next week on Friday of the previous week and all assignments are due on the following Friday. We knew going into this that wasn’t going to be an option. Many places we plan on being are not going to have internet connection and I’m not flying home every week to have a meeting with a teacher for an hour. I found a great online private school called Keystone Online. They’re based out of Pennsylvania and the cost is around $2500.00 per year. They have a curriculum to follow and it can be done at your own pace over a 12-month period. It is 100% online and they also send you school books and materials so you don’t have to worry about coming up with a curriculum on your own and trying to register it with your home state. They offer Diplomas when the child has completed high-school and you are assigned a homeroom teacher should you have any questions. A friend of mine recently told us about a program called “out-school” You pay per course and you have numerous courses to choose from and the classes are scheduled on certain days and hours. There are programs like Khan Academy, Southwestern Advantage and International school online. I like Khan academy, they’re free. Southwestern Advantage is $20.00 USD per month, but I think you have to buy the equivalent of the set of encyclopedia Britannica in a set of 6 books. This set of books has 3 different ways to teach your child everything they need to learn in school all the way from Kinder to College. The courses include Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science etc. They also send 6 additional books about anatomy and physiology, space/astrophysics, zoology, earth science and so much more. The subscription also allows you to login to the Southwestern Advantage site which has a parent corner. The parent corner discusses all sorts of issues from scheduling as a new homeschooler, behavioral issues with the children, how to recognize when you the parent need a break and what to do. There’s a whole community out there waiting to help you if you need it. The short of it is, you need to find a program that works for whatever it is that you’re doing. I can e-mail Kaden’s homeroom teacher and tell her what our plans are for the day and have it take the place of his history lesson if I want. The school is very flexible with what you can substitute for learning as long as it fits within the category of Language arts, Science, Math, Social Studies or whatever elective course you’re taking.

The next question we get often, mostly from American and Canadian travelers who go to the same places year after year for decades is “aren’t you scared?” Our answer: “Scared of what?” The same things that happen anywhere you go is the same thing that will happen in your home country, state, city or town or province. It’s all relative. Often times I should have been way more scared to show up to work than to leisurely travel the world with my family. Sure, I may not be able to bring my weapons with me, and if I’m lucky, I’ll never have to use it for my personal protection. The same thing could be said for me being at home. I could be at home when something bad happens and guess what, I don’t wear my gun on my hip when I’m home. I could “what if” the shit out of the what could happen, but it doesn’t do me much good to overthink it. If I did that I’d never have left my house. The problem we see, as I can really only speak for America, is that our news is so tainted with all the bad shit that happens everywhere. What you don’t see is where those things are happening. It would be like me saying “there was a terrible mass murder in California, don’t go there.” Well folks, California is a big state with nearly 40 million people living in it. It encompasses nearly 164,000 square miles. If this mass murder thing in California happened in Los Angeles, does that mean you shouldn’t visit San Francisco which is 380 miles and 7 hours away? No. We don’t let fear govern our lives. We are smart about the places we go and the things we do. We don’t paint big targets on ourselves by having and showing off expensive stuff. We do our best to blend in where we can. Some places we go, the boys are so light skinned they stick out like a sore thumb and others where I am so dark I stand out. Just be smart about where you plan on going. Map a route to get there. Check resources on the internet and ask other local people. We were just told yesterday by a guy at the suspension shop that traveling south and east from here in Guanajuato is very safe, but still try not to drive at night unless absolutely necessary and if we do, stay on the toll roads. He also said it’s best not to drive at night because sometimes on the toll road, there are corrupt officials that will pull you over and impound your car and you’d have to wait to see a magistrate until the morning to get your vehicle back or pay them your hefty fine on the spot. So, note to self, don’t drive at night unless absolutely necessary. Just be vigilant and do some homework and make sure to have a back-up plan. Sometimes it’s best not to let the officials know you speak Spanish. You have to be able to read people and gauge a situation. Don’t do dumb shit.

The hardest thing about traveling in the interior of Mexico has been the lack of open camping. It seems that everywhere you go there is private property or a city. The streets in these places are pretty narrow once you get off of the Carreterra. We’ve had quite a few near misses that gave us pucker factor for sure. And since losing our ladder and partial solar panel with a hole through our roof under a “Puente” that was rated at 2.5 meters and we’re 2.5 meters tall we’re a little gun-shy about going under some of these bridges and in some tunnels where we can clearly see that tall vehicles have completely scraped the rocks with their roofs. I don’t want to do that again, it was bad enough the first time. Driving this ambulance in these cities is tough. Huge blind spots, you can’t look out to see behind you because you have an entire additional foot of space behind you that is blocked by the ambulance box so you only have mirrors. Usually I’m the one getting out and guiding Bronson to either back up or move into traffic. We can see behind us, but we can’t see to the sides of us and that’s a huge blind spot.

The next hard thing is that we have no personal space. This one is huge for me. I have always been independent. I love having my own space with my own stuff where I can go away and have total and complete quiet. Well, since being on this trip I’ve had none of that. NONE. And neither have they. We get on each other’s nerves all the time. There is some yelling, every now and again the crazy side of me comes out and I look and sound like the devil, but hey, I own that shit.

It’s not easy doing what we’re doing, but we make the best of it. The boys seem to throw their shit everywhere and cannot keep the inside clean. I’m constantly nagging them to pick up their shit and then they are always asking me if I’ve seen their stuff. No, I haven’t seen your stuff, but I guarantee if you always put it back in the same place you’ll never lose it. This concept seems to be lost on the boys and I can’t stand it. I’m constantly sweeping the floors, wiping down the countertops and dusting. I’m not saying I’m perfect. That is so far from the truth it’s not funny. We all have our shortcomings. I’m sure if I sat down and thought about it, the list of my shortcomings would be much longer than the boys combined. Bronson is by far the hardest worker of all of us. He researches everything that could and will go wrong with this vehicle. He’s already researching our next vehicle when we sell the ambulance and trade down to something smaller and more maneuverable. Yes, I said downsize even more. He is a tinkerer, so he’s really good at seeing how things function and can troubleshoot just about anything. Kaden is a sponge, so he’s soaking up a ton of knowledge about vehicle maintenance, school, chores, history, responsibility, self-initiation and getting a first-hand lesson of how pride can get in the way of your ability to learn. I’m the translator, teacher, grocery list maker and shopper, safety officer, finder of everybody’s everything, navigator and interior cleaner. We each have our roles and the longer we’re on the road, the more our roles change and intertwine. It’s important to stay fluid in responsibility. If one of us adults gets hurt, the other has to know how to take on the other roles.

We argue, we yell, we cry, we laugh. We even laugh sometimes because we can’t cry and it won’t do us any good to yell because there’s nobody to yell at and place blame on. We take the good with the bad because we are a family. Together there isn’t anything we can’t get through.

 

Ambulicious

After so much time deciding what kind of vehicle we were going to purchase we thought the Nissan NV would be the vehicle until… We drew out the space in the garage and stood inside it without anything built in. The first thing we noticed was, we barely had enough room to move around in it with just the two of us without our son or cabinetry/bed/kitchen space. I quickly decided it was not going to work for our intended purpose and nixed the idea.

So began our search for a new vehicle… After looking at box trucks, moving vans, military vehicles and such, we decided to look at ambulances. Sure, some of you might think it’s gross, unsanitary ot haunted, but the reality is, they’re not, it’s not. Speaking practically, the box is big. It has all the lights, pump functions, heat and air, full bench seat and rotating jumpseat. They also have mass amounts of “counter” space and the kicker??? Complete internal and external storage built to withstand any type of crash test you could put it through and built to run forever (taking the box and putting it on another chassis, that is).

We searched high and low to find one and managed to locate one that had originally been specked out to a volunteer fire department. Come to find out, that department had only used it as a support vehicle, so it never carried patients.

When we bought it, it came complete with lights, sirens, comms system and PA still working. It had all the EMS decals and some basic original equipment. We saw it online and 3 days later we flew to pick it up and drive it home.

W

e named her Ambu-licious. We retrofitted he interior invluding a new leather RV couch/bed, acacia wood floors, butcher block countertop and leather jumpseat complete with massage and heat.

We sent her to get the engine bullet proofed. By that I mean we sent her off to basically have everything in the engine re-done and beefed up and tuned for horsepower and oxygen efficiency at high altitudes. When she was done with those things, we sent her to get a 4wd system and a 6″ lift.

After all the work was done, we flew out to pick her up. 30 miles out of Salt Lake City, one of the inner cooler hose blew. Of course, it would be THE THINGS that weren’t replaced initially. We turned around and went back to the engine shop, got that replaced and headed back out heading home. Thirty miles out of Salt Lake City, we blew another one. Turned back around and got that one replaced. Now we have new everything under the hood. We made it home and took her out for her maiden voyage camping trip that night.

We drew lots of attention at the campground. We even “showcased” it. People we’re intrigued by it, but it also sparked ideas in many of them.

The next day, we took Ambu-licious to an engineer to work out Solar for her and figure out battery life to run everything without the engine. He’s also custom building a front bull bar with winch. That should be done in a few more weeks.

Unrealistic Expectations: What you don’t see Vs. What you do see

Today I was thumbing through my friends posts on Instagram and Facebook looking at pictures of everyone in their Halloween costumes.  All the smiling faces and perfectly done make-up. I have to say, this year, we KILLED it with our costumes. Not that there aren’t better costumes out there, but we pieced our costumes together (though our little guy insisted on being Master Chief from HALO and I’m not good enough to make that shit) and spent hours perfecting the make-up. It’s awesome to see the finished product, but what about everything not photographed (or maybe is) and the reason we choose not to post them?

I think most of that is due to self preservation. First off, we all want a presence on social media without being too revealing. After all, some things in life are definitely meant to be kept private. More often than not, we really only show what we want people to see. Guilty as charged. All too often pictures are photoshopped or in some instances the phone has a setting that automatically does it making you or your landscape look “perfect.” But here’s the deal, NOBODY/NOTHING IS PERFECT! We typically post things we are happy to let people see, but not the entire scope of how we got that really awesome picture. I’m not just talking about portraits. I’m talking about sitting at the right place at the right time to get the perfect exposure. Adjusting the camera’s settings just to the right ISO, adjusting the aperture and getting just the right angle in hopes of capturing the beauty of which your eye sees.

What you don’t see is the arguing about where the fuck we are and where we’re supposed to be. You don’t see the anger and frustration of the indecisiveness of either party. You don’t see the temper tantrums of a young kid that’s hangry. Yep he turns in to quite the devil child once he gets hungry. You don’t see the disruptions of travel plans and the angst from hundreds of travelers when we’re all on a train at 11 pm heading to Rome when suddenly the train stops and everyone is ushered off the train to busses in order to continue the trip with no explanation, yet we all know the trip is now going to be an additional 3 hours come to find out someone decided to end their life by jumping onto that railroad. I’m sure with that revelation, we can all spare 3 hours. You don’t see our frustration when we’re reading and following a map, but the map is wrong (think Venice, Italy) or there’s no legend to follow so we have to hope we know which direction is North on the damn thing. We may even get lucky to have a local give us directions specifically by the number of turns we have to make and the number of doors we must count to arrive at our final destination. Yet despite their best efforts and our best attempts, we still get lost over and over again while the sun is setting and we have yet to find our hotel. You don’t see the anger we exude when we’re trying to use the GPS to map our location, but the GPS is delayed and so we circle around the same roundabout 4 times waiting for it to catch up and continue to do this while navigating the streets of London and Paris (it started out funny, didn’t end up funny). We’re too busy being pissed and arguing with each other to even think about snapping pictures. What you do see is this:

The issue is, we have expectations. When our expectations are not met, we get irritated. Irritation turns to frustration which turns to anger and eventually a melt down if you can’t get control of yourself and your emotions.

We expect a map to be correct, the GPS to work and track our location. We expect to have cell service or at least wifi, and to have an eventful trip without too much hassle. We expect a level of cleanliness when we book a hotel or home or room. We expect that hotel standards around the world would be the same as in America. We expect to have our meals served with a smile and we expect that we’re going to have to leave a tip. We expect the food we ordered will come in a timely fashion and that we’ll have extra time budgeted so we don’t run out of time to see the things we vacationed to see. We expect when we are seated at a restaurant, the server will come offer us drinks and then take our order when our drinks arrive. We don’t expect to have to ask for any of these things because we’ve been trained as Americans to expect these things will just happen.

When we vacation, we’ve learned to leave our expectations at home. Mostly because if you have too many expectations you’re asking for a trip full of disappointment. A girlfriend of mine once told me that we  “are travelers, not vacationers.” In a way, she’s right. We travel to immerse ourselves into other cultures and learn more history about the places we visit. We venture into areas most tourists won’t go because it’s out of their comfort zone. We talk to locals and ask them where they go to get away from tourists and we go there. We’ve stayed in some pretty dank places and some areas that really had us questioning whether we should cancel our booking and find somewhere else to sleep or just chance sleeping at a train station. We’ve hopped on the back of a random person’s motorbike to catch a ride back in to town with varying degrees of mistrust. But we always have found that we can rely heavily on our instincts to guide us in the right direction.

When you’re walking through the ghetto seeing graffiti, and you spot your “hotel” room you start questioning the area… Then you get up to your room and see the XXX Adult shop across the street, next door to the liquor store and you kind of know it was probably a bad choice. But we still give it a chance, unless there’s something egregious that jumps out at us that makes us run for the hills. We make sure to pack light, just in case we need to get out in a hurry and we generally don’t travel for less than 3 weeks. If it doesn’t fit in our backpacks, it doesn’t go.

You may not see pictures of us arguing, or giving each other the cold shoulder or getting short with our son, but you will see unadulterated pictures of beautiful scenery and us in our natural state of being. Sometimes I don’t want to pose for a picture and sometimes I don’t want to hike up that f%&*ing mountain. I can even be seen flipping off the camera in those instances. We don’t photoshop and we don’t try to show things that aren’t there. We try only to capture the things we see with our eyes. Often, the way we see it through our eyes cannot truly be captured in a photo. So we stop expecting things to be what we want and start accepting the way things truly are wherever we go.

It’s All About the Journey

 

 

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Umpteen years ago, I was walking in to work at 0-dark-o’clock and said out loud, “I can’t wait until I can retire.” My co-worker and friend said “really, what are you going to do in retirement, find another job to occupy your time?” I looked at her with a look of extreme puzzlement on my face and said “There’s a whole world out there for me to explore. I’ll never be able to see everything I want to see in my lifetime.”

We’ve been fortunate enough to be able to take a month off at a time which is nearly impossible for most American working class. Many other countries get 4-6 weeks off every year rather than the 2 we are allotted as Americans in this working system imposed on us to do more with less and make shit work.

Over the course of the following few years, I had so many of my co-workers and friends ask me “where to this time?” I usually have an answer without hesitation because I usually start planning our next trip as soon as the current trip ends.

When I told this particular friend of mine that we were going to Croatia, she said “Croatia? Who goes to Croatia? How did you even think of that country to begin with?” The answer is simple. I look at pictures, I read travel books, I read reviews on cities, I make contact with people who live there or have been there and what they recommend. We take under consideration, the time of year we plan to go and what the weather will be like, the type of things we want to see (historical, beach, mountains, seclusion or city, etc.) and how much time we have to spend traveling.

Upon embarking on our trip to Croatia, we flew in to Budapest and spent some time in Hungary. Attended a festival we didn’t even know existed which happened to be the biggest music festival in the world. We bathed in the roman baths, went spelunking, ate wonderful Turkish food, sweat out every ounce of water we drank and at times felt like we were suffocating in the heat of the hottest summer Hungary had ever experienced…EVER. We sat on trains with no air conditioning and even with the windows down, no air coming in because the air was perfectly still outside. Totally miserable yet at the same time, exhilarating seeing the beautiful architecture and smelling the deliciously mouthwatering food from all the street vendors. Walking through huge meat and farmer’s markets in the middle of the city and watching people on trains and busses about to lose their dinner after drinking too much. We drank wine in a cave and got lost too many times to count, but that’s always been the best part traveling to us. Even-though we argue and sometimes I feel like going fists to cuffs, we always end up making it through the rough patches, but those are the things we remember the most.

To get to Croatia, we went through Slovenia. A beautiful country in its own right. So many beautiful buildings, colorful architecture, cobblestone streets and lines zig-zagging every which way on the street that I’d never be able to figure out how to drive there. Trying to speak any Slavic language is totally beyond us and Google translate only works if you have downloaded the language to be used offline or have internet connection. We stopped numerous times to ask for directions and information about what trains to take to get us where we wanted to be. Most of the people we’d encountered were very courteous even if they didn’t speak our language even though they knew we didn’t speak theirs. They’d ask if we spoke any Hungarian, Slavic, German, or Turkish because just about everyone we’d encountered spoke at least 2 or sometimes 3 of those languages. They’d even say they speak “a little” English. Well, their idea of “a little English” is a lot different than our idea of “a little.” They were all damn near fluent in English. Add that as language #5 for the Hungarians and Slovenes!

We spent some time at Lake Bled which by all means is a “Little” Lake Tahoe. It’s surrounded by beautiful tree covered mountains and has its own island with a sprawling cathedral. The water is cold but swimmable and so clear boats look as if they’re floating in air. You can also see the Julian Alps in the far distance towering above the tree line surrounding the lake.  Swans frequent this lake as do many locals hanging out along the beach.

Stopping along our route in Zagreb, we went to a small museum called “The Museum of Broken Relationships.” Funny and not so funny. People send in their memorabilia of a relationship that broke their heart and send in a short summary of what happened. Some stories about revenge were hilarious, and others were absolutely heartbreaking. We hadn’t planned on stopping there, but after climbing up Lotrščak Tower with our backpacks on in a space just wide enough for my shoulders to fit while scraping against the walls, we saw a really intricate rooftop with a coat of arms in its design. On our way to find out what that building was, we haphazardly stumbled upon the museum. Turns out, the rooftop we had seen was the Church of St. Mark. Such a beautiful city filled with wonderful people.

From there, we headed to the coastline, first Split. Split was a gorgeous and bustling city. Miles upon miles of beautiful coastline and shopping galore. Since shopping really isn’t our “thing” we opted for more history and museums. The city turns into a wonderful menagerie at night consisting of light displays on the exterior museum walls and bustling nightlife of food, drink and music. Music everywhere. From Split, we went to the island of Brač (pronounced Brach). This island had to be THE highlight of our trip. Completely unplanned. We happened to be talking to a couple of locals in Split, who recommended this island compared to the Island of Hvar, where everyone goes. We hopped onto a ferry and took the ride over. Once we got off the ferry, there were numerous people waiting at the port offering places to stay for CHEAP! We saw a really friendly fellow toward the back who was unassuming and politely waiting (which I imagine wouldn’t be good from a business standpoint, but since he wasn’t pushy, I’d opted to see what kind of accommodations he could offer). We made our way to that man and he walked us to his “hotel” which was 100 yards from the ferry, right in the center of the town. They had an entire night life filled with family friendly things to do such as outdoor trampoline arena, shopping dining, and entire inflatable waterparks. They had a scooter/motorcycle rental place nearby and since it’s a mostly undeveloped island, there aren’t many other forms of transportation there.

We decided to rent a scooter and drive it around the island. At first we stayed on the roads and went through numerous fishing villages and saw some cemeteries with graves dating back to the late 1000’s. Then, somehow, the road stopped and turned to dirt. We opted to take the dirt road around the coastline and see what was around the coast. We came to a few small coves, completely deserted except for the occasional passerby that was on their way home for the day. We jumped into the water in the coves to cool off and got back on the scooter to continue our trek around the island. We ended up in another fishing village with an entire beach filled with families. Out in the near Adriatic Sea, there was a ship that resembled an old pirate ship. Such an awesome sight to behold. Clear blue skies, deep blue sea, gentle breeze blowing and a picnic on the beach. It wasn’t easy getting there though. On our way, we nearly ran out of fuel, I crashed the scooter once on a rocky uphill. Turns out, the scooter didn’t have enough power to get us up the steep terrain together or individually, and we eventually just decided to walk alongside it while occasionally revving the engine and giving it enough gas to crest the top of the hill. It wasn’t too far, but it was damn hot.

While there, Bronson lost his sunglasses and I lost my hat. SOOO, started our tradition of choosing each other’s sunglasses and hats when we are abroad on vacation. Usually we try to find items that are a far extreme from what we would normally wear and whatever we pick for each other, we HAVE to wear. Quite funny actually, because every time I look at him wearing the ugly thing I made him buy I laugh and vice versa.

After spending a couple of days in Brač, we decided to head down to Dubrovnik where we would spend the remainder of our time in Croatia. While there, we stayed at a place that I booked online just before we got there. In the description, it claimed to be a hotel. We hopped in a cab and gave him the address. He dropped us off on this long dirt road that stretched for miles along the Marina. He pointed out the address and there was a solid wood gate blocking any entrance and it appeared to be a three-story house. We decided to open the gate, completely unsure that we were even in the right place. There were no “hotel’s” or anything resembling a hotel anywhere near us. As we opened the gate, we were greeted by a table of people eating dinner and were welcomed with open arms. Turns out, this was the correct place and though it was listed as a hotel, it was actually a residence that rented out rooms. The host was very kind. She cooked us breakfast and dinner, did our laundry and kept our room clean and she was a great conversationalist. She told us all about what it was like during the Serbian/Croatian war and told us about the war museum they had at the top of the gondola overlooking the “Old Town” Dubrovnik.

We went to the museum, where it told a grueling story of how the Croats survived the war with the Serbs. Amazing, considering the Croats had no military, and all their firearms were from WWII. It was fascinating, humbling and deeply touching to see how they survived and rebuilt and have a much better relationship with the Serbs, albeit not perfect by any means.

We went down to the Old Town which had been a fortress. We jumped off of rocks into the crystal clear, warm Adriatic Sea. Walked miles up and around the Old Town walls, and up to a patio where they serve fresh squeezed juice. After a long walk in the sweltering heat, a fresh cup of OJ never tasted better! In the evening, we would jump on crowded busses to get back to our hotel, and even in the most crowded of busses, the young men and women always offer their seats to the elderly. It was so refreshing to see that people still have respect for their elders.

After our adventures checking out the Old Town of Dubrovnik, it was time for us to head to Dublin, Ireland. We got into Dublin and toured around the city for a few hours. On our way into the belly of the city, we watched as the Police flew down the streets with lights and sirens blaring. They all (4 of them) jumped out of their vehicle, grabbed a man cuffed him and hauled him away. It took less than a minute. That would never fly in America. People would think the Police just kidnapped someone. Apparently, it’s pretty commonplace there because nobody blinked an eye. Nobody was out with their phones trying to catch the incident and nobody even seemed to care. As we were walking by people, they were commenting that whoever was just picked up “obviously got what they deserved.” Coming from America, that was a little shocking.

We were supposed to have a 19-hour layover which would have given us just enough time to get a small taste of Dublin. Later that evening, we met a fantastic couple and had drinks with them at Temple Bar, where we got the 101 on how to pronounce Smithwicks. Yep, they definitely know if you’re not from around those parts. It’s pronounced Smidiks- no “thw” sound. We finished our evening reveling in the cool, crisp air as we headed back to our hotel to be rested for our long flight home to the States the following day.

We got to the airport a couple of hours early the next morning and were advised the flight was delayed 2 hours. Every 2 hours for the next 10 hours they kept telling us our flight was delayed. After spending the entire day in the airport waiting for a flight that never came, the airline shuttled everyone to different hotels and paid for lodging and food. The following day we again got to the airport early and again the flight was delayed. 2 full days of flight delays only to find out the plane was having mechanical issues and couldn’t take off. There was another plane across the tarmac in a hangar that they just weren’t using until over 200 people complained about needing to get home. Finally, on the 3rd day of our 19-hour layover, we were the first flight, America Bound. What pissed me off the most, was we sat in the airport for 2 full days, wasting our time when the airline absolutely knew they couldn’t get us home. Do they even know how much we could’ve done in those 2 extra days we all sat there in the airport waiting for something that was never going to happen in the first place? All of us passengers were incredibly angry and for all the trouble, they issued us a $200 voucher each. Really? How about offering us a first- class upgrade for your total and complete fuck up? You’ve wasted our time and made others miss meetings or have to book on another airline to get home on time for work which cost way more than $200 when you’re trying to book for that same day. Needless to say, I’ll never fly that airline again if I can help it.

All in all, we had an awesome time, met some great people, ate great food and ended up in places we’ve never heard of before where we enjoyed ourselves the most. After all, life is a journey and if you never take the risk, you may never get the reward.

Is Time Always Working Against Us?

I was watching a video today about time. The amount of time we as Americans spend working. I’m not talking hours in a day or week. I talking over your life time. The average person will work for at least 40 years, chasing the dollar trying to earn enough to live comfortably so they can retire. Think about that number for a minute. 40 years.

I remember when I was just in my first year as a Deputy Sheriff and I was talking to a co-worker. We were walking through the doors at our detention facility and I said “I can’t wait to retire.” She looked at me and said, “Really? Exactly what do you plan to do once you retire? Work somewhere else? Doing what?” I told her once I retired there would be no working again. I then explained that there was a whole world out there to explore and that “one day” when I retired, I would travel the world. I just really didn’t understand the reality that most people who retire, end up finding another job usually because either their retirement isn’t enough to live on or they’re bored and need something to do. I don’t really understand that concept. I always said, once I retire, that’s it. Retirement, as I see it,  is meant for people to enjoy the rest of their lives doing whatever they want. I didn’t know I’d be forced to retire so early with so little money.

With this retirement, I had to re-evaluate my life. I needed to make changes. I went to a vocational rehabilitation specialist who had me take a series of different tests. IQ tests, personality tests and timed tests of reading, math, cognition and pattern identification. In addition to all of those, I also had a psychological examination. I scored so high on the exams they said that I could choose to do any one of the jobs listed in this 6 page booklet. There were 3,000 jobs to choose from. This testing was designed to narrow down the scope of jobs I’d be qualified for. How was I supposed to narrow it down from 3,000 jobs?

It took me 2 years to decide that I was going to stick to my original plan and just not work. I was looking for a job that allowed me the same luxuries as being a public servant. I wanted ample vacation time, sick time, a retirement package, medical, dental and vision benefits with a schedule that allowed me to work only 3 days per week and get paid for holidays. Nothing I looked into; except nursing and public service (and yes, I looked into almost 600 of the jobs that appealed to me the most), allowed me more than 2 weeks off per year. I understand that’s what the average American gets every year, but  I’ve never  only taken 2 weeks off. Two weeks isn’t enough time to even relax into vacation mode. That’s just enough time to get used to having the time to learn how to relax and let shit go. Then you’re back into the grind only to have to wait an entire year before you get to have another vacation. Vacation is essential to my lifestyle. It helps keep me sane and happy.

See, I consider myself to be relatively healthy. I eat nourishing foods, not crap. I exercise regularly and I try to keep my stress levels down by doing things I enjoy. Despite these things working in my favor, I was diagnosed with Thyroid and Lymphatic cancer when I was 30. It was shocking because I had no family history of Thyroid or Lymphatic cancer; All other cancers, yes, but not these ones. All the doctors I saw asked if I had been overexposed to radiation. The only radiation I’d been exposed to had been medical imaging for various reasons like broken bones and dental x-rays. The doctor’s considered me an anomaly. It only took 10 days from the time of my diagnosis to the operating table because the cancer was spreading so fast. My whole body imaging showed the Lymphatic cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in my arms, abdominal area and legs. Bronson and I had to have “the talk.” The “what happens if I die from this? What will you do with your life after my death,” how will this affect our son, who was only 2 years old at that time? After a series of radiation therapies I had been given the all clear. I am a Cancer Survivor (I just found out that my cancer markers are up again, so I have to get more testing done, ugh!).

We really don’t know how much time we have here on Earth. Everyday should be a day that you wake up and are able to enjoy what you’re doing. If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, and you’re in a job you don’t like just because it has great benefits, or it pays well  or you have seniority doesn’t mean you have to stay there. You’re only limited by the limitations you put on yourself. If you’re not willing to make sacrifices and take risks, you will always be stuck. If you continue to tell yourself you can’t do something, you’ve defeated yourself before you even gave yourself a chance. There is a certain amount of risk involved when deciding to do what you want vs. what you think you need to do and not everyone is comfortable with that and that’s ok.

In many other countries,  Finland for example, people aren’t tied to jobs they don’t like just to have benefits. Benefits are something awarded by their government. That means people can go anywhere to any job that they enjoy doing because they don’t have to worry about benefits, they’re covered. They also have one of the best school systems in the world, and guess what? The kids in primary school only go to school on average, 3 hours each day and don’t have homework… So what are we doing wrong in this country that we’re rated number 25 out of all of these countries, yet we are a “world power?” With being a “world power” I would imagine we could be so much better in our school system.

 

When you venture outside this country, you see that many other places, not all, but many, move at a slower pace. They try to make the most of their time. They spend their lunch hour (or hours) with friends and family, the spend the weekends with friends and family, they travel all over the world. We rush to get our lunch eaten or an errand run before returning to the grind. We don’t make time for our friends and family during this time and so many of us take a “working lunch.” Why is that ok? Why do we think this is normal behavior? So many of us work a 9-5 grind with 2 weeks off per year. I know people who have never taken a vacation in their entire career. I know people who feel guilty for taking vacation because there is nobody to fill their job while they’re gone. I know people who refuse to take vacations because they have so much work that comes to them that they can’t afford for it to get backed up on their desk waiting for them to come back from vacation to take care of it. It seems we care more about our jobs than our friends and families. WHY HAVE WE MADE THIS THE NORM?

You only live once (unless you believe in reincarnation), and life is too short to continue playing by someone else’s rules. We don’t all have the option to up and quit a job we hate and find another one. I know this. I don’t live in a fantasy land. But if we never speak up and we continue to be silent about it and we don’t start asking questions, we will forever be stuck in that cycle. Don’t be afraid to be the one to stir the pot, we need those people on such a basic, fundamental level. Until the innovators and entrepreneurs decide that when they hire people, they will allow flexible schedules, remote work and additional time off and benefits to all employees not just the full time ones, we will always be scrambling to find the time to do the things we enjoy. By the way, as a side note, the Trump administration is trying to pass a bill that if you have more than 30 employees they no longer have to offer you health benefits, meaning, if your employer fits into this category, you’ll be paying those expenses yourself in addition to what you’re already paying. Yay! (sarcasm dripping from my lips). We will continue in this perpetual cycle of playing catch up on the weekends. This is not how I want to spend my life, working or not. I don’t want to “catch up” to my life. I want to be present always in my life, after all, it is MY life, not my job’s life or my supervisor’s life or anyone else’s life. What about you? How do you want to spend your time? Just think about it.

 

It Takes Serious Planning

To embark on this 8 year journey, it’s going to take some serious planning. We’ve had to map a route (have you seen the picture of our world atlas online yet? She’s a biggin!), research all the places along the way we plan to stop, figure out how much money it’s going to cost in fuel and groceries, where we can fuel up along the way and how easy it would be to remain inconspicuous when you’re in a city and living in the van. We also had to research the type of transportation we are going to be using to live out of for the next 8 years. That’s a long time; 8 years. Making that decision was definitely not easy. Bronson researched every vehicle under the sun.

We didn’t want to spend $150k on a Sportsmobile, we needed more space than a regular 4WD lifted van, we even went the route to try to find a VW Westfalia with a pop-up and considered an old short school bus. After looking at all of these vehicles and not being satisfied with any of the designs or chassis, we decided to go ahead and get a cargo van and have the interior built for our needs. Since we’ll be in it for 8 years, we want it to be comfortable. It also needs to be rugged since we’ll be on nearly inaccessible roads. We need a shorter wheel base and more head space. We also want it to be easy to clean with 3 of us and a dog, it’s bound to get very messy. It needs to accommodate a bed that will sleep us and a separate bed to fit the kiddo. We want it to be essentially a mini-RV, only built with better quality to withstand the beating it will take on the road and we need it to easily fit in a shipping container for when we plan to go to different continents.

We decided to use the Nissan NV 3500. Since it doesn’t come fitted with AWD or 4WD, we have to purchase it and take it to Advanced 4 Wheel Drive in Salt Lake City, Utah to have the drive train pulled and replaced with a 4WD system. That’s going to take 3 months. This is one of only 2 companies that can switch out the 4WD system without voiding the 5 year 100k mile warranty on the vehicle and also guarantee the same manufacturer warranty as Nissan.

Today we met with the team that is going to be retrofitting our van, Tahoe VanWorks. We discussed tons of options and configurations. This team is going to make it specific to how we use the van to function in our everyday lives on the road. This company stands by their work and warranties all work done (sans crashing the vehicle) for 10 years. They are very meticulous about the work they do and because they are that meticulous, they are expecting the build to take approximately 7 months. We decided to go with this company for a couple of reasons.

First, they guarantee all work done for 10 years. If anything breaks, they fix it for free. Second, they are highly trained mechanical engineers who have worked for Boeing for many years, making sure the welds hold on airplanes and that all the mechanical moving parts are tested, tried and true. Third, they are straight forward and don’t try to force you to buy any particular product because they don’t have any manufacturer they work with that provides them anything. Everything they make in their craft shop is specific to the space with collaboration between them and their clients. And fourth, they’re local. When they have questions about a particular area of the build, or if they need input on changing the layout to make better accommodations, we can actually go and see the van in its production and decide whether we like the configuration or if it needs to change. They can make the changes without hassle and they don’t use prefabricated interiors. Everything will be specific for the design with tons of forethought put into every aspect of building up our new living quarters.

We’ve compiled a list of things we want to have in the space and it’s as small or smaller than a tiny house. It’s up to this company to make it happen. There will definitely be some compromises that will need to be made, but as the space gets built up, we’ll be able to see what is actually feasible with the space we have. We will be living in 323 square feet and the things we want to put in it to make it self contained, off grid and livable will need to be strategically placed. That should pose a significant nightmare for Tahoe VanWorks because our list is long and the need is great. Here are the things we want built in:

Mat solar panels

Lithium Ion batteries (longer battery life and less space and weight and can power the vehicle if our battery runs out for some reason)

fridge

electric cooktop

water heater

water tanks and pump

generator

shore power

Gas powered heater

Low current AC/fans

Heavy Duty Alternator

Stereo system

Insulation

Front Steel bumper with Winch

Rear steel bumper with tire mount and gas can mount (maybe the generator will go here too)

Ladder to access the roof

sink

outdoor shower

detachable roof rack

tow hitch for our bikes

portable toilet

magnetic curtains for privacy

3 built in cabinets for clothes

Space in the back for storage bins

LED interior and exterior lighting

Sump pump with water filtration system to fill our water tanks from streams, rivers or lakes and a secondary system for micro-filtration against bacteria, viruses, and other microbes that like to hang out in dirty water.

4 stage battery management system

Kill switch (so nobody can steal the vehicle)

Detachable awning

So there it is in a nutshell. Now it’s time to start making our way to downsizing, wish us luck. Garage sales abound!

Are we Programmed to Fail?

What Does “Failure” Look Like?

So often, we as American’s have been told, you work hard, study hard, get into a great college and the universe will open itself up to you. Is that really true? The reason I ask is twofold. First, factually the universe has been open up to anyone who can physically and emotionally get through the testing processes, since man built the first space ship and sent monkeys into space… The second thing is, in my opinion, that thought process limits your brain to thinking in one singular, linear direction. If you cannot think outside the box and you constantly stay inside it, conforming to what everyone wants you to be or tells you, you need to be, many problems won’t get solved. This is why those of us who have the ability to think outside the box can come up with innovative ways to solve problems. I’m not saying I’m an innovator by any means, but I am an intellect, and I’m a problem solver.

Many of us wake up in the morning with an idea, a purpose, a problem to solve. So why is it, if our brains and their complexity are able to think in multidirectional avenues, are we told to conform to societal rules? Why can’t each of us value ourselves and our own abilities to be who we really are and what we want to be?

I had been sitting on a bench at a park one day, many years ago, and right next to me was a homeless man digging through his backpack. The only possession this man owned. He asked me if I had any food to which I handed this man a granola bar from my purse. I’m nosy so I asked him where he slept at night. His answer was so simple I almost couldn’t believe it. He said, “Wherever I want”. I thought about that for a minute. Wherever he wanted? So of course, me and my nosy self, asked if he had a job and how he made money to sleep wherever he wanted.  He explained he was homeless and he was choosing to live that way. He didn’t want his government taking his money from him when he would work so hard to earn it. He didn’t want to be in debt and he tried explaining consumerism to me, which at that time was way over my head. I sat there with that man for nearly an hour before he asked me why I was there. I explained that I was contemplating where to go with my future. I was watching as my friends started medical school at UCLA. I was a little envious of them until I realized how the studying was affecting their ability to be happy. It was changing them. They were becoming callous and everything seemed to be an issue. They were becoming like most medical students, burned out and overworked and over stressed, but what for? Was all of that going to be worth it in the end? That was the same path I was on, but after watching their transformation to Medical Student rather than undergraduate after just their first year, I quickly realized that route was not for me. Exhausting myself and getting into more debt for the sake of being able to pay it off over the next 30 years didn’t appeal to me. Now I had to make a decision. Quit this last quarter before starting medical school, continue and get my BS and go to medical school or find something different altogether.

I realized after that conversation, I had been the ultimate consumer. I had to have as many credit cards as I could, I had to have a brand-new Acura Integra that I had dreamed of having since I was 16. I needed to work 4 jobs so I could make money to afford the things I wanted to do and pay my bills while going to college. I wanted to have my own apartment with no roommates, I wanted to go out to eat every night with my friends, I wanted to go to Disneyland nearly every weekend. I wanted and wanted and wanted. I didn’t distinguish between what was a necessity and a desire.

The more I wanted, the more I had to work. I was burning the candle at both ends. I had overextended myself credit wise, and though I could barely afford to do the things I wanted and felt I needed, I started failing in school because I had to work. My days and nights were filled. I’d go from my day job to school for 3 hours, back to a different night job. I’d wake up in the morning go to 5 hours of classes and then my afternoon job, then my night job. I was only sleeping 3 or 4 hours each night and I was also trying to make time for a boyfriend who was living 4 hours away in San Luis Obispo. At one point, I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I began to stop eating out, going to Disney, driving every weekend to see my boyfriend and started saving money to pay off my debt.

I finished my quarter, moved to San Luis Obispo and got a job. Paid down debt and broke up with the boy I moved there for. Turns out I didn’t like him as much as I thought I did now that things in my life were moving in a different direction.

I began to realize that as I continued living in places that had major freeways everywhere and billboards promoting beautiful women with cosmetic procedures and the latest and greatest vehicle, the next big thing for cellular phones and computers and wedding rings and, and, and, and… What I didn’t see, is anyone around me being happy. Nobody was having fun, nobody was doing anything in their lives except chasing that all important American Dollar. People were always angry, honking their horns at the vehicles in front of them while sitting in traffic as if honking was going to make anyone move any faster. People would be yelling out of their car windows, flipping people off and the negative energy was so immersed within this culture that it seemed impossible to escape it, and people were perfectly content to settle for that stress.

I couldn’t bear to be in that situation anymore. I wanted to be out of debt but I didn’t want to work my fingers to the bone and never see the benefit of it. I wanted to be happy, to be able to afford to go outside and take the world by storm wherever I went. I wanted to be free. I just didn’t know how to get there. I had been programmed by all the ads along the highways and freeways to “need” the things they were advertising.

I began to think about the man on the bench, “wherever I want,” and I thought to myself. What is it that I NEED in order to get what I WANT? That was a huge moment of revelation for me. We’ve been programmed that we can have anything we want as long as we can make the payments on it. The reality of it is, just because you can keep up on the payments for all of these things, doesn’t mean you can actually “afford” it. By the time you pay it off, you want something else, the next big thing. The financing and debt cycle starts all over. Then suddenly I also realized that the financing debt with interest is what kept people from being able to actually afford anything, but nobody wanted to be looked down on as “outdated.” This may not be what the average person thinks is “failure” because failure means something different to everyone and looks different through other people’s eyes. I see it as failure especially after the housing collapse of 2008, which realistically, let’s be honest, started before 2005. We, as consumers, just weren’t paying attention.

We all have things that make us smile, make us giddy inside. But what is it in your own life that makes your life worth waking up for every morning? What is it in your life that makes you truly happy? The happy that makes you smile ear to ear? When you can really feel your best self and your most inspiring self? Everyone’s ideas of happiness are different. For many it’s all the things they can afford, all the latest and greatest gadgets, the Jimmy Choo shoes, huge diamond rings, Gucci bags, etc.

I’ve found my happiness for now, and that means leaving everything behind, downsizing to a Cargo van acting as our tiny house on wheels, bringing education to underdeveloped nations about hygiene and clean water and teaching our child the skills and trades of other cultures, how they operate, how to integrate and teach him that happiness doesn’t need to come in the form of materialistic things that will become obsolete when we die. We don’t take those things with us to the grave, we take our memories with us until the day we die (unless we get dementia or Alzheimers). The less attached we become to materialistic things, the easier it is to let go of things that anchor us down causing our unhappiness and those aren’t necessarily materialistic things, it might just be an issue that seems unsolvable. My issue right now happens to be pain and the more I’m able to let go of the idea of what I used to be able to do, and get along with the idea of what I can do now instead, has altered my life dramatically in a very positive way from 2 years ago to now. It’s separating yourself from your things. The things you have, do not define who you are.

So, yes, in a way we as American’s have been programmed to fail by constantly being in debt and taught only linear thinking. For those of us who can escape that way of thinking, we become free to escape the ties that bind us to this dependence upon money or financing for things, and begin to use it more wisely to stay out of debt and live a life that is truly fulfilling to each of us. Again, if those things are what truly make you happy, then buy all the things you can! I just have found that having THINGS, clutters my life and gives me anxiety.

So please, just ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now worth it, and does it make me happy?” If the answer is no, identify the problem so you can find the solution.

 

 

Searching for a Purpose

After spending the better part of 10 years as a cop and having my career lost due to an injury, I was left with a gut wrenching decision to make. That decision was “What do I do now?”

See, I never thought I’d lose my career, after all, I’d spent countless hours in college and gotten 2 AS degrees and 2 Bachelor’s degrees. I always knew if nothing else, I’d have that education to fall back on. The problem is, none of those 4 degrees really help me in my search for “what’s next.” I thought having my business degree, I’d go into personal finance or Mortgage lending or some sort of finance. Having a degree in Cellular Biology and Neuroscience I figured I could always become a researcher, after all, I’m always researching ways to make life better and where and when to travel and did research for publications as an undergraduate for a PhD student.

Most people have, at one point or another, had a back up plan. I started with so many I couldn’t count. As life went on, those back up plans changed because my life was constantly changing. I realized the back up plans I had were never going to get me where I wanted to go, but I really didn’t know where I wanted to be.

After too many years in the books and thousands of dollars in school debt, Bronson persuaded me to go into public service. I was burnt out being in the hospital, helping people who didn’t want to be helped, being spit on and screamed at, and threatened to be sued. I just lost my zest for life. I applied for a police academy in Ventura and was offered a position. Just before the academy started, our lives changed again. Bronson had applied and tested at numerous departments when he was offered a job in Lake Tahoe. The fire service as anyone who’s ever tried to get in knows, is very competitive. Not only is it competitive, but at the time, they had the Affirmative Action Act in place. So even if you were the most qualified and tested in the top 5 people for the job, there was a certain amount of biased toward minorities to get a job, which Bronson is not. We loved to visit Tahoe and often thought of living there, so, I removed my name from the academy list and we moved to Lake Tahoe.

This is where it gets really sad and graphic, WARNING- tears may be shed while reading this part.

The turning point for me was an accident I had witnessed while moving from San Luis Obispo to South Lake Tahoe where a big rig had been clipped on it’s left rear corner by a passing vehicle. The rig jackknifed across 2 lanes of head on traffic crushing a minivan right in front of me. The rig flipped on its side, the driver jumped out of the passenger window as the rig caught fire. I immediately tended to the passengers in the vehicle and in this one particular spot, there was no cellular reception for 6 miles in either direction. I waved down a passerby and told them  to drive until they got reception and call 911. The firehouse was 15 miles away and I knew they’d be there fast, as Bronson had worked this section of the highway for 5 years as a Paramedic. As I tended to the people in the van which had been crushed like an accordion, the mother sat in the passenger seat already deceased. The father in the driver seat was unconscious, but had a pulse that was rapidly fading away. Though I knew he probably couldn’t hear me, I told him I’d do my best to take care of his kids. There was a young girl in the rear seat approximately 8 years old, I grabbed the knife I always have on me and cut her seat belt off and pulled her from the wreckage. She was breathing and unconscious, so I turned my attention to the infant in the car seat. At this time another lady had stopped to assist me. The infant was not breathing so I was doing CPR. I watched as clear fluid flowed from her nose and ears and I knew there was nothing I could do to save her life, but I wasn’t ready to give up. The lady who had stopped to help render aid was a Registered Nurse that I worked with. She pulled me away from the baby and covered her body up. A CHP helicopter, Fire trucks and ambulances arrived along with the Medical examiner’s office as I sat on the side of the road crying. Realizing all of this happened because somebody was in a hurry to get somewhere. The saying, “Things you see cannot be unseen” has never meant more to me than that day. I didn’t want to work in the hospital anymore. I didn’t want to roll up on those types of incidences and feel helpless because there was nothing I could do.  (I saved one life out of 4 that day, and for 3 years I got thank you cards from the girl and her aunt and uncle in France.) As far as I know, they never caught the person responsible for the fatal crash that devastated so many lives that day. It was at that point I felt a pull I’ve never experienced. I wanted to catch the person who was responsible for ruining this family, this little girl and all of us first responders and I was willing to do whatever it took.

I withdrew my application at all the hospitals around the Tahoe basin and put in an interest card to all the Public Safety Offices around the Reno-Tahoe basin. I started the academy 2 months after moving there and I loved it. I loved everything about it. Dealing with conflict, and conflict resolution. I liked being the voice for the victims who couldn’t speak for themselves. I knew I would be satisfied forever in that job if I made the difference in even just a single person’s life. I loved being hands on, and learning new and practical things I could use in my everyday life, not just for safety, but for talking to people. As much as I think I don’t like people, I find it really easy to talk to people and make friends, but only when I want to. I felt in charge of my situation. I didn’t feel like a sail flapping in the wind anymore, waiting for it to blow to shore. I finally found my calling. This, police work, this is what I wanted to do. This is what I’d do for the rest of my career.

12 years later, here I am, just finding my new purpose. It’s not just to travel the world and see things. It’s to teach people in the underdeveloped  world how to filter water and how to use composting to make their soil rich. If these underdeveloped countries have access to clean water and fertile soil, they can be self sustaining. They won’t have to worry about their babies dying of bacterial diseases, the parents also won’t feel as much pressure to sell their children into human trafficking to put food on the table for the rest of their family.

My entire life has been dedicated to helping people and keeping people safe, from being in the Military to the field of Nursing and starting Medical School to finally becoming a Police officer. I find that helping people to help themselves gives me a sense of purpose and wellbeing; and that makes me feel good about myself. I have finally found a new direction, and we as a family are happy to start this new adventure having found a new and deeper purpose.

It’s the Little things

In the last 10 years, Bronson and I have traversed 16 countries, countless cities and most of the states we actually care to visit. We always travel lightly, so any time we’re flying, we take a carry-on backpack. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t go. I’m 100% impatient, well maybe now I’m like only 96% impatient, so waiting for my luggage to come off a conveyor belt and risking damaging anything that might be in it, or worse, losing the luggage altogether just isn’t an option for me. Bronson really could care less, he’s much more relaxed and likes to go with the flow, for the most part. We decided when we had our son that every trip overseas would be a trip just for us. To keep our marriage interesting, fun and happy. To leave behind the worry about our responsibilities as parents and just be able to enjoy each other’s company. Any parent knows how difficult it is raising children, especially when you’re working full time and don’t always get to be a stay at home parent.

We always travel on a budget. We (I) look for the best deals, best times to travel, events and festivals among the many other numerous things we might like to check out. I never make a full itinerary because I did that once when I was 21 and the entire time, I was limited in checking out all the things I wanted to see because I was on a tight schedule right down to each minute. It was a complete disaster.

What I’ve found during since then and during these travels, is that it’s not the things you plan to do that you remember. It’s all the shit in between that you just can’t imagine happening. Those make for great stories when you get home, but when you’re in the throws of traveling abroad where nobody speaks your language and you don’t speak theirs and it seems like everything is falling apart, it’s those things that you look back on afterward and can finally laugh about all the stupid things you did that put you in that situation.

For example, Bronson and I were in Budapest (they pronounce it Budapesht), and we had been there a few days, rented an airbnb, steps away from any of the restaurants you could think of. Everywhere you turned, there was a Turkish kebab place to get food. Cheap, easy and delicious. I equate the Turkish food to be the equivalent of American’s Mexican food. It’s a staple in most diets over there when you’re not cooking. While we were wandering around checking out the city, we came across a ticket booth selling wrist bands to a festival called the Sziget festival. It was the biggest musical festival in the world, yet we’d never heard of it. The cost??? $20 USD per person for the whole day or $100 USD for the entire 7 days with a private Yurt and shower. 7 DJ stages, 5 live band stages, a small circus and a Cirque de Soleil style show. The show is held on an island in the middle of the Danube river and unless you have a wristband, you cannot cross the bridge, unless of course, you’re one of the very few residents that live there. We got to this festival and there was a ropes course, an adult size waterslide (you even had to wear a helmet because you were going so fast most people flew off the catchment at the end of the slide), street performers everywhere, all the food and memorabilia you could think of. They didn’t allow drugs of any kind (which was nice, not walking around smelling everyone smoking pot and talking to people high as kites) but they also didn’t take cash or credit cards. In order for you to pay for items, you had to stop at the entrance booth and get a card. You told the vendor how much you wanted to put on the card and that was the only source of money they would allow. After an entire day of spending time checking out bands we’ve never even heard of (there were over 400 over the course of the week), we took a train back to the heart of the city, and sat next to this young woman, obviously drunk and nearly falling out of her seat. The train stopped and Bronson and I hurriedly rushed off the train because we knew she was going to puke. No sooner than we stepped off the train, the woman threw up every ounce of alcohol she’d consumed that day. Phew, dodged that bullet.

The next day we decided to leave for Zagreb, Croatia. We woke up checked out more of the hot springs and architecture and planned to catch the sleeper train to Zagreb. We went to the train station where everything was in Hungarian, Slavic or German, none of which we speak. Enter google translate. Thank GOD for that app. We were able to get on a train that was headed west to Zagreb, but there were stops along the way where we would have to transfer. There was no air conditioning on these trains and Hungary was experiencing the hottest summer on record. Temperatures reached into the 43 degree celsius, which is around 108 degrees. You could open the windows but even with the train in motion, the air was so still, the interior of the train stayed stifling hot. We get through 2 stops and on the 3rd stop we disembark and switch trains. (It was a 5 hour train ride in the relentless, smoldering heat).

When we got to the end of the 4th stop we should have been in Croatia. I kept looking out of the windows and I had mapped out the train route and knew the lake we’d be passing should be to our north side. I kept looking as the lake was NOT on the north side, it was on our South side, which for obvious reasons made me weary. The train conductor came over the speaker and said this was the last stop for all trains for the night. WHAT?????? What do you mean the last train? We got off the train, the lights in the station went out and it was nearly 11:00pm. The next thing we heard was silence, then crickets. Not another sound to be heard. We exit the train station and look around, we’re in a town called Tapolca. All we can see is a steeple from the train station and not another soul around. It was as if the people that were on that train scattered like cockroaches once the train stopped.

We grab our gear and cut through people’s farms and these zig-zagging side streets until we came to the center of town. There is one pizza place open and we are famished. We’re in the wrong city, in the wrong country and without a place to stay. I still would have been fine sleeping on the bench at the train station, but Bronson wouldn’t let me unless there was no other option. I get wifi at the pizza place and look up places to stay. I book a hostel which was about 3 miles from where we were. The pizza delivery guy offered us a ride to the hostel and when we tried to give him money for going above and beyond for us, he declined to take it. He drives away and I knock on the hostel door and notice this huge sign that says “check in by 9:00pm, no in and out privileges.” Are you kidding me?????? Then why was I able to book it?

There were only 3 places to stay, the one I booked but couldn’t get in to because it was too late, another hostel that was already full and a luxurious hotel 4 miles from us. I immediately book the room, and spent over $200 USD on it. We walk the 4 miles up hill (there’s no transportation in this town unless you hitch a ride with someone) because there’s nobody to get a ride from. We make it to the hotel and we decide that if we’re paying the money, we were going to get every penny worth. We had to wash our clothes in the bathtub and hang them on the balcony to dry, hoping we didn’t lose any of our clothes. We finally washed the day off of us and retired to bed just after midnight. The next morning, we decided we would eat at their free breakfast buffet and swim in the pool until check out time while our clothes still dried on the balcony.

Back at the train station that afternoon, I asked one of the ladies at the ticket counter (she spoke English), which train to take to get to Zagreb. She pointed to a train and we got on it. I left my purse and backpack on the train while Bronson stayed in the cabin and I asked 2 other workers if we were going the correct way. I had my phone for my trusty google translate and all 3 of them told me that we had taken the wrong train to get there in the first place and that we needed to be on the other side of the lake (which I already knew). They did give us hope though because they had another train that circled the lake with a transfer station on that southern side. Little did I know, Bronson had gotten off the train with our bags but didn’t grab my purse and suddenly the train carrying my purse with all my identification and passport was on its way back to the Delhi station in Budapest without me. Holy crap, what was I going to do?

I always carry copies of my passport with me in my backpack just for purposes like this, but trying to cross the border without the actual passport wasn’t going to happen. After 2 hours, we had to get back on the train for the 5 hour journey back to Budapest. The people at the train station were kind enough to call the train conductor and have their ticket collectors actually collect my purse for safe keeping until we got back to Budapest where I could pick it up at the police station. Problem was, we got back and the police station didn’t actually have possession of my purse. It was in a secured storage area next to the police station that had just closed not 5 minutes before we got there.

Yep, of course, because if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any. I begged and pleaded my case with the man walking out of that storage area. He was kind enough to get my purse if I could show him identification. Ummm, are you joking? All of my identification is in that purse, my wallet and passport.  As politely as I can be, I say “No I don’t have any identification to show you, it’s all in that purse.” I describe the purse, while I desperately search my backpack for the copy of my passport I always keep. He comes out of the back with my purse, gets into my wallet and pulls out my ID, puts it up to my face, smiles at me and returns my purse. I look through it and everything is in there including the cash. But now we’re back in Budapest and we should be in an entirely different country by now.

Now we have another problem. It’s nearly midnight and we had no place to stay, again. I would have been fine sleeping on a bench at the train station because by this time I was pissed, exhausted, argumentative and downright bitchy. All voice of reason had escaped me. I search the Booking.com website for any hotels near me for the night and found one for $89 USD for the evening. By the time I booked it, it literally turned 12:01 am and the price jumped from $89 to $240 USD. I was losing my fucking mind.

Bronson and I are standing out in front of this hotel yelling at each other, obviously distressed because I didn’t want to pay that much money and there was nothing else around except the benches in the train station. As we’re in the middle of a screaming match in the middle of the hotel parking lot a man comes out of nowhere and says “It looks like you guys could use a drink. Come on, I know the hotel staff and the bar just closed, but I have a great bottle of Polish Vodka but it seems you guys could use it more than me.”  At that point I was ready to be anywhere that Bronson wasn’t because having him there trying to to reason and be logical was met with a disdain I’d never felt before. He hadn’t helped plan any of this, he hadn’t even offered to look up places to stay, so while I sat doing all the leg work, having the worst day of the entire vacation, he’s trying to tell me to calm down… Don’t ever do that.

We joined this man at the empty bar, he negotiated the price down with the front desk to take over $100 USD off the price of the room. He went to his room, grabbed the vodka and some glasses from behind the bar counter and poured 3 glasses. Turns out, this man was from Chicago and one of the performers at the Sziget festival who plays there every year. He and I sat at the bar while Bronson talked to one of the other band members and I unloaded about the last 2 days which led us back to where we were. We finished off our glasses of vodka and just talking to someone that wasn’t Bronson helped me return to my normal composed but crazy self.

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