The Great Western Loop! Living with Less, and Bonding as a Family!

It’s summer, I have been busy and I know I haven’t posted very much lately, but I have been on a dream trip of mine for 28 days with my wife and our three kids.  The trip consists of starting in Dallas, going north to the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Devil’s Tower, The Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, Waterton, Banff, Jasper, Missoula, Boise, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Zion, Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Farmington, NM (in-laws house), and back to Dallas.  My original plans also included going to Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon, but for time’s sake we had to cut those out for another trip.

I lived with one backpack, no internet, unless I found some spotty Wi-Fi, most of the time no cell coverage, and washed cloth and my body in natural settings for the most part.  I realized that simplicity is great way for your family to bond.  Also, we really got to know each other better in close contact with one another for the entire trip.  I really felt that after this trip we could live in a camper van in my early retirement days if I wanted it to happen sooner.  We also learned a ton about America, Canada, and saw beauty all around us at every turn.  Lewis and Clark must have crapped their pants as they saw all this stuff America has to offer for the first time.  You really don’t need much for a trip like this.  Let’s look at the trip in more detail.

We stayed in our 1992 Jayco pop up camper bought under valued for $3,000 in May on craigslist (it is currently getting cleaned up, and put back on craigslist for $3,500, since it was bought for this trip only). For 20 of the 28 nights we slept in the camper, using either park campgrounds for around $20-$30 a night, or on public land for free.  The eight other nights where hotel nights in cities to rest, relax, and most of all shower for real!  We got two nights free using points, two more nights discounted using points-plus cash, and we paid for four nights at a pretty cheap rate.  The Flamingo in Las Vegas was $34 a night, after we had the resort fee refunded due to some complaining about the room condition. (UPDATE: The camper sold for the original $3,000 after a month on Craigslist.  I guess that is a success getting my money back after traveling everywhere and making it slightly more used)

We also had four flat tires on the trip.  One in Nebraska on day one, one in Wyoming on day four, one near Death Valley on day seventeen, and one at the Grand Canyon on day nineteen.  We got six new tires in Las Vegas for $561(four on the car and two on the camper), and drove paranoid for most of the trip.  I have had only three flat tires since I began driving at age 16, so this was an experience!  We also got an oil change, all fluids checked, and a car wash in New Mexico for $53, and the 2008 Equinox was holding up like a champ sliding over the 150,000 mile marker!

As far as a budget we brought along $3,000 in cash, and had another $1,500 available in case we needed it in our bank accounts.  We wanted to spend $100 a day on the trip and we didn’t keep track of every cent, but I think we did pretty good.  It was an envelope trip, where you go until the cash in the envelope runs out.  I do most of my trips this way because it is easy to stay on budget when you are handing over the cash and feeling the pain of each purchase.  We did use a credit card in Canada with no foreign transaction fees because we were in the woods, and couldn’t get our hands on Canadian currency.  The card was paid off by Boise, Idaho.  We also looked for Costco’s for gas whenever we could, and used our Costco Visa for 4% cash back on gas purchases.  It was also great for buying candy, I mean snacks!  We never saw gas higher then $2.59 a gallon and we saw it as low as $1.93 a gallon.

Groceries were budgeted the same as if we were at home with $700 for food, and that meant eating out too.  We did splurge on a great all you can eat Las Vegas salad bar at Jason’s Deli for $7.99, and the $20 fill up at KFC was a true fill up for our family of five.  Also, Port of Subs in Nevada had 2 foot subs for $13 that fed the whole family on few occasions.  Soup and hot dogs were the go to during camping, and we bought the soup in cans in bulk at Costco.  We just put the cans in the hot coals and let it warm up for a quick easy hobo dinner in a can.  It was less than a dollar a meal per person when you added in a hotdog too.

Activities in the woods are basically free (swimming, hiking, exploring wildlife, climbing, skipping rocks, and hammocking). We had a free 4th grader national park pass, and Canadian national parks are free this year celebrating 150 years of being a country.  This meant that we had extra money to play the midway at Circus Circus, or spend a little for hot springs admissions a few times throughout the trip.  We also had an opportunity for some charitable giving on our trip that I won’t tell many details about, but it is always great to help others.  We were all helped at some point in our lives and paying it forward is the best way to show how appreciative you are for that help.

So, we came home with $200 cash, so I guess we stayed on budget.  I hope to get an extra $500-$250 from the camper sale, 4% cash back on gas from Costco, and if we went over after sorting through the financial messes, I hope to make it up with those two items to break even on the budget.  I’m just not going to stress out and track every nickel and dime while on vacation, so the envelope system works for me and my family, and allows me to just enjoy the present with my family.  I posted pictures below in case you want to get jealous of our super cheap month long trip for a $100 a day for a family of five.

Cue “Holiday Road” on another page as you look through the pictures for the best possible experience.  DONT SKIP THIS STEP!!  Now enjoy!

Day one driving for 14 hours and one flat tire in Arnold, Nebraska. (Cue “Holiday Road”)
Our sleeping quarters for 20 days.
Yes, this is Kansas and Nebraska mostly.
Traveled to the 1880’s for a bit in South Dakota
The Badlands aren’t that bad.  They are really cool to hike around in.
These guys are a quick stop, so don’t plan a whole day around this.
Crazy Horse is going to be awesome when it’s done!
Devil’s Tower is impressive, but takes about 30 minutes to hike around it.
Tetons at sunset.
One of the many free activities in the forest…Exploring!!
Yellowstone is a super volcano with evidence around every turn of the road.
If you are ever in a Yellowstone traffic jam for 3 hours, it’s this guy’s fault!!  Seriously.
Yellowstone’s version of the Grand Canyon
Glacier’s West side and the view from our camp.  We lived next to a mother black bear and her 2 cubs for 2 nights.  We also bought bear spray here too.
I just love this picture of beautiful fresh glacier melt!
The receding glaciers on the right and left at Glacier national park.  They could be all gone by 2030.  Hurry go see them!!
Freezing glacier lake= lets play in it!
Waterton in Canada.  At the end of the lake is the USA.  We share this lake.
Glacier in Jasper National Park.  These are also receding, but they are doing so slower then the ones in the USA.
Free Shower!!
Land of 1,000 buddhas in Montana.  Got my Zen on and fought off my desires.
Wingfest in Reno was great fun for me, and Circus Circus was great fun for the kids.
South Lake Tahoe and me getting my free bath and some exercise.
Las Vegas, where else can you watch a volcano erupt from a Venice Canal.
24 different international Coca Cola products in a taste testing.  We also got some floats too because we saved so much elsewhere we could splurge a little.
Zion slot canyon, wondering if I saw a rain cloud in the distance.
North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  One mile deep and growing daily.
The famous Keyhole at the Grand Canyon.
Bath time at Lake Powell.  By the way the water was perfect, and we had a picnic lunch!

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