Ours is a story of leverage. The power of leverage allowed us to take proper hiatus.
Levers provide positive benefits exponentially greater than their costs. (Costs are not always financial.)
Our favorite levers actually provide the greatest benefit at the lowest cost. (How’s that for compelling?) In other words, a true lever is a double-positive.
We were able to travel further, slower, better, and longer by using seven powerful levers. They’re not the only ones we used, but they made the biggest impact.
Lever #1 – Hiatus Itself
Taking hiatus from our live-to-work scenario was nothing short of a life-lever. A redemption.
To redeem is to reclaim. By way of our multi-year hiatus we reclaimed our vision of our lives, our sense of self-direction, our health, familial relations, and, ultimately, our very nature.
When you live-to-work, its possible to lose focus on what’s most important in life. Its not that you don’t know what’s important. Just that you don’t have the proper time to focus on it. And eventually, it suffers.
Family, health, recreation – the most important parts of who we are – when not tended to, begin to dry out and become rigid, to rot and breakdown. Living-to-work, year after year, even while successfully climbing the corporate ladder, can blunt or blur your focus on the Big Picture.
Taking hiatus was, literally, a matter of life and death. I was overworked and overstressed, and my health was poorer than even I realized. Twenty years of sitting behind a keyboard for 10 hours a day hadn’t done my body any favors. I knew that, sooner or later, there would be a price to pay if I kept burning the candle at both ends.
I also wasn’t spending enough time with my kids, which was a huge disconnect, for me. The harder I worked, the less time I had for those I loved most. Would all this hard work result in having that time, one day? Not likely.
No, getting out of dodge was what the Doctor ordered, so we did just that. The stakes were too high – family, dreams, health – to do otherwise. All of it was on table. So, we went all-in.
We’re not anti-job, anti-productivity, or anti-establishment. We understand that hard work makes the world go ‘round. But our scenario felt stuck. There was a major disconnect between our vision for our life, and what we were actually doing.
So, we took a proper hiatus. And, like the poet said, it made all the difference.
Lever #2 – Couchsurfing.com
Couchsurfing.com is the ultimate lever for travelers.
It was, financially, one of the most powerful levers we used. In a year’s time, we saved over $10,000 in lodging costs!
For the uninitiated, Couchsurfing.com is a social platform that connects travelers with potential hosts all over the world. Its a lot like AirBnb, except that its free!
Cultural Exchange is the Currency of Couchsurfing
The profound power of couchsurfing lies in our getting to “Travel Like a Local” (Couchsurfing.com’s tagline), which is no small benefit. In addition to giving you a place to stay, hosts might do all sorts of awesome things like feed you, take you places, act as tour guide, introduce you to their friends, and generally recommend the very best of their area. The only thing they expect in return is that you share culture and conversation.
This was hard for us to understand at first. What was the catch? Why would folks host us for free? However, after a few stays, it dawned on us the power of sharing. While our hosts shared their homes and lives with us, we shared our stories and our experiences with them.
If you’re generally comfortable meeting new people, and you’re willing to hustle a little (I.e., searching hosts, sending requests, following up, etc.) you can save a ton of money, while profoundly enhancing your travel experience.
Experience > Money
In hindsight, the financial savings we realized were secondary to the unbelievable adventures we had. Let’s face it. We could have saved the same $10K by sleeping in our car. But we would have missed countless perception-altering experiences.
In fact, many of our couchsurfing experiences, we’d couldn’t have bought, even if we’d wanted to. Or, if we’d have busted our budget trying.
Using Couchsurfing.com, our family was hosted (for free) in:
- historic farmhouses in Sheridan Wyoming and Castle Rock Washington (at the foot of Mt. Saint Helens)
- family farms outside of Durango Colorado, Medford Oregon, and Zagreb Croatia
- a houseboat in Key West
- a float home on Vancouver Island (not the same thing)
- a luxury log cabin between Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens
- vacation ski condos (private, with no hosts present) in Sun Valley Idaho and Brian Head Utah
- large family properties, including private apartments, with lots of space to play under acres of massive moss-laden oaks, in both Orlando and Tampa (we love Florida!)
- a million dollar waterway property in Ft. Lauderdale, swimming pool and a private yacht tour included 🙂
- family homes in Spanish wine country near Barcelona, and in the French suburbs of Geneva
- a hostel overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia
- homes and apartments where we traveled like locals in Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Olympia, Bellingham, Enumclaw (Mt. Rainier), Mt. Saint Helens, Port Angeles, Spokane, Coeur D’ Alene, Missoula, Twin Falls, Laramie, Cheyenne, Fort Collins, Dallas, Memphis, Naples, DC, Queens, Niagara Falls
And for each of the above, we could add:
“…and our hosts were some of the nicest people we’ve ever met.”
The Internal Landscape is the Thing
Our couchsurfing hosts have been some of the nicest, most service-oriented people we’ve ever met.
Beyond financial value, they broadened our experience immeasurably.
One of our biggest fears was taking our kids out of school for an entire year. What would they miss? Would they be OK when they came back?
In hindsight, our year on the road was the most expansive education our children could have received, thanks largely in part to couchsurfing.
Our children witnessed a broad range of people and properties, cultures and occupations, mindsets and ways of life, from all over the globe. They learned firsthand that people are generally good, wherever you go.
What a gift. Couchsurfing is, indeed, a powerful lever.
Couches, Cleanliness, and the Art of Receiving
We’ve slept on very few actual couches. Many hosts offer private rooms with beds, or enough space to set up our inflatable mattresses. Numerous times, we had multiple private rooms. Several times, we had an entire apartment or condo to ourselves.
We stayed in smaller places, too. Like one-bedroom apartments where we put our air mattresses on the living room floor. In this case, one of our our kids usually took the couch 🙂 Very rarely were we uncomfortable.
And of course, some places were cleaner than others. But we never had an issue with that. The hosting community generally understands what travelers need to be comfortable. Several of the places we stayed for free were even being rented out on AirBnb, so cleanliness was very rarely an issue.
We only ever encountered two places we weren’t comfortable staying in. So, we just moved on by enacting our backup plan. You didn’t think we couchsurfed without a back up plan, did you?
A Comfort Curve
We believe couchsurfing is a spiritual exercise. In modern society, we’re so attuned to paying for what we use and consume that, when someone hosts (I.e., serves, provides for, welcomes) you, it can feel downright uncomfortable.
We’ve learned that there is an art to hosting, and to being hosted. The Art of Giving and Receiving.
When you first start couchsurfing, you may feel uncomfortable, having someone serve you so freely. Soon, however, the unfamiliar becomes familiar, and you gain much by learning (remembering) how to receive.
LEVER #3 – Camping
Speaking of broadening experiences. Getting into nature is where its at, for us. Our whole family loves it. I mean, we really love it.
So much can be learned about the world, and about our own human nature, by spending extended amounts of time in the wilderness.
Sleeping in the womb of the great outdoors, we lie with our children, staring at a canopy of stars through a mesh-domed tent. Silhouettes of massive trees tower over us. We review our day and share what we’re grateful for.
Our inflatable mattresses are super comfortable. They’re not the thin ones you hike into the backcountry with, but full-on mattresses. After a long day of hiking (or not), throw a comfy cotton sleeping bag on top, and the whole setup becomes a womb.
We awaken slowly in the morning, recognizing the towering trees in the light of morning. Nature’s visual patterns imprint our psyches over time, for positive effect.
We camped like this (interspersed with Couchsurfing) for nearly 6 months. Life, in its simplicity became very, very good.
Is This the Real Life?
Thoreau says (paraphrasing), most men, tragically, arrive at the end of their lives only to find they never really lived.
What an experience to sleep under the stars, night after night (after night), with our children and God, alone.
To sleep and wake in the wilds of nature is to remember that life is but a dream.
Camping as a Financial Lever
We camped for as little as $5 per night. Settings more beautiful than you can imagine.
When campsites cost too much (in some areas as much as a cheap motel), we camped open (i.e., not in a campground), if possible.
BLM land in the West provides plenty of opportunities for free camping.
Sometimes, we had only to look right outside designated campgrounds to find dispersed camping. These were campsites with fire rings, etc., but completely free.
Camping as a Lever to Couchsurfing
Without camping, we couldn’t have successfully couchsurfed for a year, as a family of four. And the same in reverse.
We couldn’t have camped as long as we did without the periodic creature comforts of Couchsurfing. (Really, Couchsuring is like being at home wherever you go.) At the end of the day, it was about 50/50 between the two.
The Key to Couchsuring Successfully is Flexibility
Couchsurfing provides incredible experiences, but its not realistic to believe you can couchsurf as your only form of lodging. The ability to camp gave us options, and options give you confidence. In other words, finding a couch to surf is easiest when you don’t need a couch to surf.
Of course, we could have stayed in a hotel at any time, too. That was the last thing we wanted to do, budget-wise. But if the SHTF, it could totally be done.
That’s why we never had to do it. Make sense?
LEVER # 4 – Roadschooling
Roadschooling is how we describe our approach to educating our kids on the road for a year, outside of public school. Its pretty loose, and falls somewhere between unschooling and homeschooling.
We used the four-dimensional world, rather than two-dimensional books, to draw out our children. (Education is from the Latin meaning, ‘to draw out’ the pupil.)
We had books for math and for reading comprehension (Diary of a Wimpy Kid and American Girl count, right?). But mostly we experienced and discussed the innumerable quality inputs we were fortunate to have.
We visited 30+ national parks, stayed with 30+ couchsurfing hosts, and hiked near-daily in some of Nature’s most sacred spots.
We consider Roadschooling a lever because it provided exponential opportunities to broaden our children in ways not possible in school, while negating the indirect costs associated with public education.
The “costs” of public education are multiple. Primarily, the physical separation from our children during the work week, and mental separation from our childrens’ educational journey. (You didn’t just say, “What about homework,” did you?)
And this says nothing of potentially negative influences or negative emotional experiences that can happen at school.
We’re not hover-parents trying to overprotect our children. (If anything, its the opposite.) But it sure feels good knowing our kids have whatever support they need (emotional, or otherwise), because we roll as a unit. Nom sane?
Before their hiatus, our kids had several great years in preschool and elementary school. They genuinely enjoy school, and when they return next year, they’ll be richer for it.
We can’t imagine anything better than that.
Levers Work Best Together
Have you noticed an important pattern here? Many levers work together – critically and invaluably – to support one other. Here’s how.
We could only couchsurf to the fullest by camping, and vice-versa. Our own hiatus (Lever #1) supported our kids roadschooling, and vice-versa.
Camping and couchsurfing, supported both a proper hiatus and roadschooling. Roadschooling, in return, supports all of these. #levertogether
If we couldn’t properly educate our children on the road, then the road would simply be a no-go.
Roadschooling made it OK for us to take them out of school for a year, which freed us up to go where we wanted.
Roadschooling Levered our Savings
Roadschooling saved us money, too. We spent much less money living on the road than we ever did living-to-work. Living-to-work is a consumer’s game. The more you earn, the more you spend. Look it up. Its true.
Roadschooling Levers Education
The true education our children received on the road opened up new possibilities for their lives.
Their education came less from the facts and figures they were exposed to (though, there were tons of astonishing ones), and more from how and with whom they learned.
They were educated in four dimensions. Wilderness became classroom. Friends, family, and strangers became teachers.
We were their teachers.
Whatever scholastic inputs missed (if any) were more than made up for by the experience of traveling and learning together as a family.
Every day, every mile, a lesson.
LEVER #5 – National Parks
We visited over 30 national parks, monuments, and recreation areas in the US alone. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
We’re HUGE fans of the national parks system. Those in the West, particularly, hold a seemingly infinite number of astonishing and mind-bending geological features.
Believe it or not, this was something I was not aware of before I met Jana (2001). I simply didn’t understand what we could see by hiking or driving into these national parks.
But I soon found out.
National Parks Contain Gems
What I learned (almost immediately) after meeting Jana was, that national parks contain gems. Gems of geological awesomeness.
In every park we visit, we always stop at the visitor’s center first. They have information on what gems are available to see in their park.
And they’ll even help us prioritize our day if we don’t have enough time to see them all, so, we always see the very best. #visitorcenter1st
National Parks and YOU
Want to experience a profound physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual journey?
Visit some of the national parks in the western US that we list on our Destinations page. Upon your arrival, go immediately to the visitor center and ask them what you should see. Then strap in.
Just 16 years ago, I was completely in the dark about the realities of national parks. So, we say it here, hopefully, for your benefit.
Many of the gems in our national parks can be accessed via short to medium day hikes. Many times, you can even see amazing stuff right from your car. Though, we highly recommend hiking.
LEVER #5.25 – National Parks Annual Pass
Daily entrance to most US National Parks run about $20. National monuments and recreation areas may cost a little less.
Either way, you can spend a fortune accessing parks, individually. An annual all-access pass costs only $80 and allows you to visit any national park, monument, or recreation area in the US. We even received partial or full discounts in state and local parks.
Overall, we reaped a fortune in experience, knowledge, perspective, health, and gratitude. All for $80.
LEVER #5.50 – Free 4th Grader National Parks Pass
Its not even true that we spent $80 on our pass. We did so for several years in the past. But not this year, baby!
The National Parks Service currently (smartly) offers a free annual park pass to families with 4th graders.
What a smart way to get families into nature at a time when their kids can use it most.
And guess what? We happened to have a fourth grader. So our good fortune – which would have been a steal at only $80 – was actually free! #leverforever
LEVER #5.75 – National Parks Junior Ranger Program
Speaking of national parks and of roadschooling…
The US National Parks Service Junior Ranger Program was a staple for us.
Each of the 30+ national parks, monuments, and recreation areas we visited had their own unique Junior Ranger Program.
Junior Ranger is an interpretive program for kids which usually requires the completion of a workbook, and corresponding programs or activities within the park.
Once completed, the kids turn in their workbooks to the park ranger. Assuming she finds their work satisfactory, she’ll sign off on their workbooks, grant them a park-specific badge, and swear them in.
Our kids earned over 30 badges.
Junior Ranger was just one component of our roadschooling approach, but it was SUCH an amazing resource. Like having a little formal, but fun schooltime a few times per week.
Many of the parks’ workbooks consist of little more than word searches and other fun-type learning exercises. But we discovered that fun learning, like Junior Ranger, is powerful because our kids were compelled to engage in it, and to retain it.
Some parks required activities in addition to completing their workbook. In Bryce Canyon, they provided a plastic lunch-lady glove and required the kids to pick up 30 pieces of litter. The kids LOVED it!
There typically isn’t much math in the Junior Ranger booklets, but they were awesome resources for reading comprehension, natural science, geology, geography, and more.
Bottom line, the Junior Ranger Program further levered both our (free) national parks annual pass, and our roadschooling efforts. #levertogether
LEVER #6 – ASTC Children’s Museum Admission Exchange Program
We visited a LOT of children’s museums and science centers. If #roadschooling were a three legged stool, these learning centers would be one of the legs.
ASTCA is an admission exchange program that allows you use your local membership to access participating facilities all over the world. And there are A LOT of participating facilities.
We visited 20+ children’s museums and learning centers in every state we traveled. Even in Canada! Some were world class. Others were not. But every one offered a unique learning experience for our kids.
Sometimes, admission without the pass would have been cheap. But other times, it wouldn’t have been.
For example, entrance for all four of us to TELUS World of Science in Vancouver Canada would be nearly $100 per day. But, with the ASTCA pass, it was free!
This remarkable, world-class facility is so expansive, it can scarcely be seen in one day.
That we went there four days in a row means our ASTCA membership (about $60/yr) saved us nearly $400 in this one city alone!
LEVER #7 – Toyota Sequoia
#Vanlife and #RVlife are huge movements, these days, and just getting bigger.
Its astounding to see how many folks are breaking out of their grinds and taking to life on the road.
The fact that we did it, ourselves, is testament to that. And its an amazing thing.
If you’ve read #vanlife (and similar) blogs, you know how often vehicles break down and get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Or, nowhere you want them to be.
What if you finally took your hiatus, went on the road, and spent more time repairing than traveling.
That never happened to us. #toyota
With the exception of a flat tire (due to Adam’s hubris rather than any technical deficit of a brand new tire), we traveled, smooth sailing, for an entire year. Over 35,000 miles in 12 months, on little more than oil changes.
Levers All Around You
Often times, our greatest levers already exist. They’re part of our lives, so we don’t have to go out and buy them. That’s what makes them so inexpensive.
When we began our hiatus, we’d already owned our Toyota Sequoia for over a year, and it rocked!
We’ve always bought our cars used (#financiallever). Usually, they have 90K to 120K miles on them, and are 7-10 years old when we buy them.
We’ve found that cars from Japanese car companies (particularly Toyotas) are typically the most reliable once you’re shopping within that age and mileage range.
If you’re contemplating buying a vehicle for your road trip, we highly recommend Toyota vehicles. (Honda a close second.)
Of course, if you’re in the market for a van or an RV, then that’s something different. But here’s something you may not have considered…
We Didn’t Need a Van or RV to Live on the Road for an Entire Couple of Seasons (Jun-Nov)
By camping and couchsurfing we were able to travel for the entire summer and fall, comfortably. Even though we couldn’t sleep in our vehicle comfortably.
That’s not to say we wouldn’t use an RV or van in the future.
In fact, by the time we ended our journey, the ability to simply pull over and sleep without building camp became VERY compelling.
But for this time around, the ’06 Sequoia crushed it. #5thbeatle
It crushed it so hard, in fact, we have to wonder if we’d taken another type or brand of vehicle, would we have done as well?
Better to spend your time and energy deciding where to go and what to do, than on how to limp your gimpy vehicle into port, hoping you have enough time and money left to see some sites.
Ultimately, there were many levers we utilized to live on the road as a family for over a year.
The ones covered here, we believe, were the most impactful, financially, mentally, emotionally, and otherwise. If you have questions on any of them, ask them here.
Ready for Blast Off?
If you’re looking to blast off – even for a little while – you can go further, longer, better, and cheaper by using one or more of these levers. Combine them (#leveredLeverage), and really watch the sparks fly.
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