A day in the life – Canadian style!

Hello from New Brunswick!

It is a rainy morning here in New Brunswick, on my first day in Canada on this trip -which will include Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. I thought it would be a great opportunity to write a post about a typical day in the life of a full-time RV-er, albeit a shoestring budgeted solo van camper and not a fancy-pants RV! LOL, all you motor home and fifth wheel friends!

Last night I arrived at the coast of Maine after spending a few hours chilling out in my favorite place in the world – York Beach, Maine, before driving about two hundred miles further north. Or as my Maine relatives say “a little bit fatha up noth”. (Who needs those pesky “r”s?) I didn’t want to cross into Canada that late in the day so I pulled into a Circle K/Irving Gas business with a small parking lot for overnighters just 15 miles from the border crossing. There was only one other car there, so I took the end parking slot away from the lights with a view down into a shopping center below and a pretty valley beyond.

Placing my reflectix “curtains” in the windows only takes a few seconds, and then I have a cozy little cabin. My full-size bed is already made up with a summer quilt so I opened the roof vent to let the cool breezes in.  I crawled into bed and read a while by the little LED lamp while my I-phone charged on the portable generator.  Not too long afterward, the phone was charged and I was ready to fall asleep.  No noise keeps me awake when I am ready to sleep!

Ready to sleep in my cozy van!
Looking over Baxter State Park, Maine, and Mt. Katahdin, almost to the Canadian border.

This morning I awoke early as I had fallen asleep before 10 pm and had a full 8 hours of good sleep. (I sleep SO WELL in this van!) After my morning ablutions and use of my porta-potty, I cleaned up and was ready to drive. I don’t do breakfast early, but merely munched on some peanut butter crackers and my bottled water as I drove.

Crossing the border was pretty easy. Although it is Canada’s birthday today and lots of people will be visiting, no one else was up at 6 a.m. so I was the only car at the crossing. The usual “just camping for two weeks, no alcohol or firearms or tobacco” and showing my passport routine took 5 minutes. As I sped up to highway speed, it was amazing to me that the countryside actually looked different from Maine! I was not too surprised to see a moose in a wet area off to the side of the highway before I was very far down the road. My first hundred miles or so was sparsely populated, with lots of undulating rivers deep in the valleys as I crossed over them. Truly beautiful! Part of my fun while driving, besides looking at gorgeous scenery, is listening to books on Audible.  I have about ten books in my “library” that I can listen to as I drive.  I am currently working my way through the Harry Potter series (for about the 15th time).  On book four today, The Goblet of Fire.  The miles speed by as I watch for moose and eagles, enjoy the landscape, and listen to the wonderful British narrator Jim Dale read to me!

The clouds started gathering ahead, and pretty soon it was getting foggy. I decided I would pull over and fix some hot lunch.  First I mixed a can of creamed corn with a box of cornbread mix and baked that in my portable stove as I drove further east across New Brunswick. When the bread was baked (about 40 minutes), I pulled over and swapped out that bread pan for another disposable aluminum pan filled with a box of Spanish rice and can of black beans to cook. I drove a bit more until I saw an exit with another Circle K/Irving Gas with a large parking lot.

Black beans and Spanish rice for lunch, with some hot cornbread

Pulling in, I unplugged the portable stove before shutting off the engine. (Only use when engine is running — otherwise it could drain the car battery!) Making use of the facility bathroom, and throwing away my morning trash, I returned to my van for my hot meal.  Spanish rice with black beans cooked perfectly, and some tasty cornbread, all hot and ready to eat!  Total cost of meal – $3.25, and it will last two meals!

My little power generator will recharge my cell phone about 100 times before it even loses one bar! Best $150 ever spent!

Now I am sitting in my cozy van, listening to rain drops on the roof, as I wait for the fog and rain to dissipate.  I’m in no hurry, and will take a nap after finishing this post.  I am on my way across New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island and the whole “Anne of Green Gables” experience.  This is a long-awaited visit that has been on my bucket list for a very long time as I have loved those books since I was a little girl and have re-read them many, many times. But for now, the rain and fog have me holed up in my van for a few hours.

It is so refreshing to travel this way.  A couple of hours here and there of driving, and then a stop to enjoy a beach or a nap or a rainy hour of reading in my cozy van with the raindrops hitting the roof.  I am warm and dry, with my comfy bed, books, my laptop and cell phone, good food and drinks…this is the life!

 I will complete this post later today as it is only noon now, and so much more is to come…!

And the rain has stopped! I quickly crossed New Brunswick and drove across the Confederation Bridge (8 miles!) to Prince Edward Island. There was no charge on the bridge crossing in this direction – the toll will be charged when I return.  Canadian $46 is about $38 American. I just use my debit/credit cards and let my bank take care of the conversions.  I don’t even bother to get Canadian money as I just use the card instead of cash everywhere.  Since this (2017) is the 150th birthday of Canada, I obtained a free Canada Pass for the year which will get me into all National Pass places – including some of the Anne of Green Gables sites! Gotta love the FREE price!  But even those places that are not on the National Pass list, the cost for each was less than $5.00!

I arrived on Prince Edward Island around suppertime, and headed up the coast to the village of Summerside.  You can imagine my delight in finding that a harbor celebration was taking place that day to commemorate the birthday of Canada! There were vendors, live music, and fireworks – what a great welcome I had to the island! (and yes, of course, it was just for me – haha!)

I found a public parking lot right across from the harbor, and felt very safe leaving my van there while I enjoyed the festival.  The live band was playing a lot of American songs that I knew, but also some Acadian and Canadian music, which I really enjoyed.  I walked around and met some very friendly people.  Families were all over and having fun. It was great to see the Canadian flag everywhere, and people dressed up to celebrate.  We must have sung “Happy Birthday to Canada” about every hour or so!

The coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada
Purple, pink and white lupines grow along the sides of the roads – beautiful!

This is the fun part of traveling with a flexible schedule – coming across a festival, finding a place to park, and enjoying time with the locals.  I knew our Fourth of July was coming and I would be in Canada, so this celebration on July 1st was a good substitute for me, and I still got to watch fireworks! Yay!

When the fireworks ended, everyone else drove away.  The parking lot was NOT posted against overnight use, so I just put up my Reflectix curtains and slept.  No one disturbed me, and the sea air and sound of the tides was perfect sleeping condition!

Total cost for the day – $55 gas, $15 food, $2 postcards.

NOTE:  I did not post this for several weeks, and I again happened upon another festival when traveling the coast of Maine after I returned to the States – a clam festival in Yarmouth, Maine – two weeks later.  I do google search sometimes for what is free in an area, but both times I just drove into a festival and said, “Yay! A festival!” This is so much fun!

I have to say, Prince Edward Island is a most spectacularly beautiful place to visit! I highly recommend you make the time to travel there. The scenery is lovely, and the people are wonderful. As I was hiking a trail there, I followed a Canadian family and overheard the following between a mom and her tween daughter:

Daughter in a complaining voice: “Mom, why are you aaaaallllwwwaaayyysss talking to people and giving them directions?”

Mom in a patient kind voice: “Honey, we are Islanders! It is our job, every one of us, to be friendly and make sure our visitors have a great time here. That is our responsibility!”

I felt like applauding the parent for being so patient with her daughter but also taking the opportunity to teach her a good lesson. Lots of great people in Canada – glad they are our neighbors!

I hope you are having a wonderful summer and that you find joy in simple pleasures!

—Scout, out!

From my bookshelf…

“Islam was no more responsible for Josh’s death than it was for Lee’s. Josh was killed by Islamic extremism – Islamic fundamentalism. Lee was killed by Christian fundamentalism.  Those bigoted Christian fundamentalists that expend all their energies sifting through the Bible so they can find ways to condemn people who are different, like gays, and totally ignore the spirit of the great commandment to love others as self.  That’s been my one great lesson from this whole miserable ordeal. Fundamentalism kills.  Fundamentalism of any kind. Narrow-minded, simplistic thinking that allows no room for honoring and respecting the life experiences of others.”

Children of Covenant by Fred Howard, 2017

Planning a ROAD TRIP on a shoestring budget

On the road again –
Just can’t wait to get on the road again…

Goin’ places that I’ve never been, 
Seein’ things that I may never see again…”

Read more: Willie Nelson – On The Road Again Lyrics | MetroLyrics

This is where my head’s been at for the last month. Spring is here and summer is just around the corner.  I have worked the last few months to replenish my savings account so I can head back east and north for the months of June to September.

I have loved spending the winter here in New Mexico with my daughters, but I am ready to travel full time again.  I will add my tentative itinerary at the end of this post for those interested. First, though, I thought I would share with all of you the process I have developed of planning a major road trip on a shoestring budget.

First, I make a list of people/places I would like to visit.  Of course this involves family, especially kids and grandkids!  Top priority there!  Add in extended family and friends, some whom I have not seen since college back in the 1970’s.  Looking at the atlas, I think about places I would like to visit if possible, and any celebrations/special events I know about that I would like to see.  I plan to travel to Arkansas, Virginia, New York, Maine, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island Canada, and then back to Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Florida. Here is my initial list:

Rough draft list of possibilities

I have columns for location (and automatically put them in a logical traveling order), who I am visiting, any special events/places in the area, if I would be boondocking, mooch-docking, campground or hotel, dates I may need to be there (such as a birthday), and the approximate miles between locations.  I sit with this document for several days to let my brain simmer.

I like to look at a paper atlas at this point, in case I missed something.  I will also look at some blog posts I have saved from other people describing places I’m interested in, and also will spend some time on the laptop doing research. This trip I specifically would like to visit Canada in their national parks celebration, including the Tall Ships events and my childhood favorite – Anne of Green Gables. I also would like to visit Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando, which I missed last year.

After research and rumination, I do a second draft of the same list with my modifications so it isn’t too messy.  (This first rough draft is usually a mess after a few days of switching things around and adding/subtracting details!)  When the details look good, I get a good feeling.  Now this tentative schedule may get totally disrupted by weather, illness, money not stretching far enough…any number of situations.  But I am ready to head out with the big picture in mind, and a “take it as it comes” mindset. I am never too far from family or friends, and I don’t have a need to stick to every detail. I don’t have a problem with things changing.

To continue the planning, I now move to my expected expenses for the trip. On the back of this form, I will add up the total miles to figure out my gas costs – the biggest expense of the road trip for me!  This is money that has already been saved and earmarked for fuel.  This trip looks to be about 7000 miles, give or take.  Although gas is now about $2.20 per gallon, I will adjust to $2.50 per gallon to be on the safe side.  So fuel costs will be $1800-$2000.

Then I add the days when I am traveling and need to eat.  Since I am usually visiting with someone every few days, I eat very simply on the road – usually about $5 per day.  At this point, it looks like about 25 days on the road, so cost would be approximately $125 for groceries.  (Not bad for four months!) I double that to include supplies and such, bumping it up to $300 just to be on the safe side.

Next I would look at optional expenses – such as campgrounds, ferries, events, tolls, etc.  I know I want to take the ferry from Nova Scotia back to Maine and that is $200.  I would like to spend a couple of days in Orlando at Harry Potter World, so that is a huge optional expense. Campgrounds will probably run me about $300, so I place these optional expenses at $700.  If money is tight, I will change my plans and boondock, travel non-toll roads, etc.

So it looks like my costs for the four-month summer trip will be approximately $3000, barring any unknown calamities.  This is money already saved for the trip.  (I recommend people travel with at least $1500 extra -banked- for emergencies.) I will continue to work 10 hours a week while on the road (teaching Chinese children online English classes) to pay for my regular bills of insurances, Planet Fitness, and Verizon.

Now that I have the rough draft ready, I print out blank calendar pages to plot the day-to-day details:

The month of June – rough draft

The distance between two scheduled stops is figured (love to google: mileage from Albuquerque, NM to Fayetteville, AK, for example). I divide the total miles on that leg of the journey by 250 – that is the maximum I want to travel in a day.  Then I look in the atlas to see where I would be and figure where truck stops would be, or towns with Cracker Barrels or Cabella’s, etc. –any place I can sleep for the night in safety for FREE. I do have phone apps that tell me of boondocking places and campgrounds, etc. so I can quickly decide where to stay while on the road, even at the last minute.  I do my best to be at the overnight stop by 4 pm so I can check it out, get a “safe” feel or continue to another place, all before dark.

If I think I might use a campground, I look at some in the area.  I usually stay in State Parks, Federal Parks, or COE (Corp of Engineer parks), as they are less expensive than a private campground, they don’t care that my vehicle is older than 5 years, and they are generally more nature-inspiring!

After all this planning, I will let my family and friends know my tentative itinerary.  Always communicate that the dates may change based on weather, traffic, and who knows what else may happen on the road! I keep in touch with those I am planning to visit the week before I am due so they know if I am on target or will be earlier/later than scheduled.  At this point, some may not be able to host me and so I would revise my plans as they let me know.  I really do “fly by the seat of my pants” so this is the most organized I can possibly be!

Tentative Itinerary for June-September 2017:

  • 5/29 Mon. leave Albuquerque, NM — to Amarillo, TX
  • 5/30 Tues. –to Oklahoma City, OK
  • 5/31 Wed. — to Fayetteville, AR
  • 6/3 Sat. — to Memphis, TN
  • 6/4 Sun. — to Nashville, TN
  • 6/5 Mon. — to Knoxville, TN
  • 6/6 Tues. — to Clemmons, NC
  • 6/8  Thu. — to Buena Vista, VA
  • 6/11 Sun. — to mid-Pennsylvania
  • 6/12 Mon. — to Albany, NY
  • 6/26 Mon. — to York, ME
  • 6/29 Thu. — to Bangor, ME
  • 6/30 Fri. — to New Brunswick, Canada
  • 7/1 Sat. — to Pugwash, NB (Tall Ships event)
  • 7/2 Sun. — to Port Hawkesbury, NB (Tall Ships event)
  • 7/3 Mon. — to Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • visit (Anne of Green Gables, etc.)
  • 7/9 Sun. — to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 7/13 Thu. — ferry from Nova Scotia to Portland, Maine
  • drive to Dixfield, ME
  • 7/17 Mon. — to Sebago Lake, ME
  • 7/18 Tues. — to Raymond, ME
  • 7/19 Wed. — to Portland, ME
  • 7/21 Fri. — Sanford, ME
  • 7/22 Sat. — to York, ME
  • 7/28 Fri. — to Albany, NY
  • 8/20 Sun. — to Cochranville, PA
  • 8/22 Tue. — to Buena Vista, VA
  • 8/27 Sun. — to Charlotte, NC
  • 8/28 Mon. (my birthday!) to Myrtle Beach, SC
  • 8/29 Tues. — to Conway, SC
  • 9/1 Fri. — to Savannah, GA
  • 9/2 Sat. — Tybee Island, GA
  • 9/4 Mon. — to Jacksonville, FL
  • 9/5 Tues. — to Orlando, FL
  • visit HARRY POTTER WORLD!!
  • 9/9 Sat. — to Tallahassee, FL
  • 9/10 Sun. — to Mobile, AL
  • 9/11 Mon. — to New Orleans, LA
  • 9/12 Tues. — to mid-Louisiana
  • 9/13 Wed. — to Houston, TX
  • 9/14 Thu. — to Waco, TX
  • visit MAGNOLIA store and town
  • 9/16 Sat. — to Lubbock, TX
  • 9/17 Sun. — to Roswell, NM
  • 9/18 Mon. — return to Albuquerque, NM!

I will be contacting people at this point to see if I can stop for a visit along the way.  I would request to park my van in their driveway.  I would love to share a meal or two with them, and see the family! If there’s something awesome to do in the area, I ask them to please let me know if we could enjoy that together.  If not, just hanging out is FINE with me!  Most family/friends will get back to me quickly and I highlight those that can host me, and which dates.  Now my tentative road trip plan is pretty much set.

I know other people may plan more, and do things differently, but this works for me.  I love seeing family and friends and doing cool stuff, but I am also fine with boondocking along the way on my own. As a confirmed introvert, I can easily go for da-a-a-a-a-a-a-ys without talking to another person.  I can always GOOGLE an area and find interesting things to do that don’t cost anything.  Nature itself is my favorite go-to, and America the Beautiful has so much to offer!

So, I hope my detailed process for planning a road trip is helpful to someone.  Please comment if you have other tips and tricks to planning a long trip!  Hope to see you this summer!  Happy trails!

—Scout, out!

From my bookshelf…

“There is a love and respect at the center of everything we do together. It’s not just business, it’s personal.  When you come to work with me, I had to be assured you’d bring your heart.  Heart sealed the deal.  That’s why the E Street Band plays steamroller strong and undiminished, forty years in, night after night. We are more than an idea, an aesthetic. We are a philosophy, a collective,with a professional code of honor….That it’s an honor and great fun to join in concert with those whom you’ve invested so much of yourself in and they in you, your fans, the stars above, this moment, and apply your trade humbly (or not so!) as a piece of a long, spirited chain you’re thankful to be a small link in.”

From “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen, 2016