Well, here we are with 10 days to go before the adventure begins! This last month was EXHAUSTING! We have run into a few bumps in the road this month, mostly business related, but have managed to find ways to overcome them. I'm not going to go into detail, because it's exhausting thinking about all that we have accomplished, but the important thing is that we have worked things out and we are on schedule to depart on May 30th!
Here is a recap of a few of the things that we have done the last 4 weeks:
A couple of weeks ago we made the transition of moving most everything that we are not taking into the room and moved ourselves into the game room area. The cats loved having the empty room for a bit and they loved it even more after we filled it with bins for them to climb and hide in! We've been spending as much time as possible with them and the reality of leaving them behind is starting to hit us. The original plan never involved leaving any pets behind, but life happens and these kittens came into our lives for a reason. They will be in excellent hands while we are gone and we installed cameras that will allow us to check in on them from time to time, and even talk to them. Daniela will also be setting us regular Skype sessions with us so they can actually see us as well. Both of them have been spending mornings watching Minions with me on my PC. They are absolutely fascinated with Minions and will sit and watch them for 30 minutes or more sometimes. I will post some videos on our Facebook page. They are very used to watching video and TV now so this should make Skyping with them a little better (I know, we are crazy cat ladies)!
We visited De Soto National Monument and got a few souvenirs for our van as well as my Access Pass. As a disabled Veteran we are able to visit National Parks for free and can use the campgrounds and other amenities at a discounted rate. If you are a disabled Veteran or if you have a permanent disability, you should look into this pass https://store.usgs.gov/faq#Access-Pass. The Rangers at De Soto were awesome and I really enjoyed my conversations with them regarding the future of our National Parks and Monuments! If you have concerns as well, we recommend you follow Alt National Park on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AltUSNationalParkService/.
Toni came home with a nice Road Atlas the other day so we can start converting our route from the big map to the Atlas. Of course, everything is subject to change on this trip, but we do have a general route planned for the U.S. & Canada leg of our trip.
The final touches of the van are being worked on this weekend, though we just decided to install a ventilation fan in the roof, so hopefully we can get that done this week. We have also been spending some time with our friends and getting all of our goodbyes in. Our neighbors at our old house threw a block party and made us the honored guests. It was a great time. We will be head back over there after our final event on the 21st for one last BBQ with all of them.
Daniela has been learning so much these last few months and is doing a great job for us. She has been a great friend and an awesome personal assistant. This trip wouldn't be possible without her! I am looking forward to giving her some fun projects to do with our photo and video footage!
Our friend Brett owns HJs Handy Man Services here in the Tampa area and he, and another friend of ours, Mark, managed to get several things off of our to do list last week. They were efficient, the work was excellent, and the price was fair. They will be coming back this week to finish up a few more projects for us, which should be the last of the big projects on our list, as far as the Investment Property goes! This saved us a ton of time and headaches.
With 10 days left we still have some big stuff that needs to be sold or rented. Both of our cars and one of our older work vans are still for sale, though we have received a lot of interest. One of our commercial rental properties is also still available for rent. These are all things we were hoping to have off of our "To Do" list by now so that's a little disappointing, but we will see what this week brings. Other than these things, the rest of the things left to do are all related to the trip and the website. We have some really big plans for the website and Facebook page. We even started our first giveaway!
This week I will be learning about the Samsung 360 camera and Virtual Reality Headset and how to take the best footage possible of the amazing place we go, so you can be with us Virtually! I also will be practicing with the Drone this week so I don't crash and burn!
It's crunch time so I'm going to end this BLOG here for now. We are now Blogging weekly from this point out and we will be posting on Facebook almost daily, so make sure you are following us! We will be posting on Facebook anytime a new BLOG is posted as well, so you don't miss a thing!
Thanks for following & we will check in Memorial Day weekend, days before our departure!
Written by Nicole
Here we are, six weeks out and I am finally getting some time to catch up on our BLOG!
The last four weeks have been all about getting projects done. Our to do list is up to 6 pages long and I won't bore you with all of the details, but it certainly has been an overwhelming few months. Here is a little of what we have been up to.
We have downsized our home and moved into an apartment of a property that we have purchased. We have had a screen room built, we have treated some rotting wood and painted the buildings, we started a Catio so our cats will have a safe place to play outside, as well as several other smaller projects on the property. We still have a bunch of projects to finish over the next two weeks, but we are making some great progress!
We have put our Window Cleaning business up for sale and though we haven't had any serious offers, we did manage to sell two of our Counties as Franchises. An employee signed the deal and is currently training with me to take over those locations. This will make it a little easier to sell our other two locations, either as Franchises or as a whole. Though this won't happen before we leave, we hope to find a buyer in the next year or so. We also decided to move into the smaller office since we won't be needing the extra space for our other business or storage. This will also allow us to rent out the larger office which will increase our investment income. The downside is that we also had to downsize the business which meant sorting through and getting rid of things that we don't need, and more moving, though considerably easier that our personal move!
We have been taking care of all of our medical and dental appointments and making sure we have everything that we need medically for our trip. Since we will be back in Florida before we leave the country, we don't have to worry about any shots or anything yet. Getting prescriptions for 18 months is the hardest part and we are still working on that process. The VA will mail mine and then Daniela (our Assistant), can forward them to our current location, but we are still working on Toni's. Doctors tend to be reluctant to write prescriptions in advance so we will see how all of that works out.
The majority of my time has spent hiring and training new staff that we needed, and working with Daniela and our current staff to them all on the same page, working together to ensure that everything runs smoothly when we leave. I will still be running the overall operations of the business, but Daniela and two of our Supervisors will be overseeing the daily operations on the ground. I am able to access our security systems on my phone and can even talk to the staff through it so, though I hope that I am only working about an hour a day at most, I am able to literally keep an eye on things and yell at them if needed! I joke of course. I have some excellent employees and I rarely yell...the business will be in good hands. In two weeks I will pull back from the business and let them start to run it, with me being close by. This will allow us an adjustment period to work out any details that we may have missed. Of course there is always a chance that some of these Supervisors will leave us within the three years. This is why we have multiple people splitting the workload, but learning all of it. This means that the others can pick up the other tasks until we promote someone else and get them trained on those tasks. I felt this was better than hiring one manager for everything.
As our concession business is winding down we are starting to say goodbye to customers that we have built relationships with over the last 12 years. It has been bitter sweet. People all are sad to see us go, but commend us on taking this journey and seem sincerely happy for us. Three years will go by fast...they will be back to eating Philly Cheese Steaks and Kalua Pork in no time! Many of our customers are snow birds and will be leaving before our final May events. It's truly the end of an era, but hopefully we will be back here in a few years to pick up where we left off!
Everywhere we go we have been talking to people about our trip and we have been getting some excellent suggestions. We've added on some additional stops as well as a couple of Countries that we hadn't considered before. We will be posting an updated travel route soon!
Lastly, we have been working on getting our Social Media, Website, and other online business tasks done. We have some new things in the works that we are getting excited about. We are shopping for new cameras, drones, and getting ready to take some classes in May that will help us with alternative photography, social media platforms that I'm not yet trained in, and finding additional ways to make money with our travels!
Really, there is so much going on that its' hard to explain the enormity of it all. We are making some excellent progress and I am confident that it will all get done in time. In the meantime, we would love to hear opinions on the best point and shoot cameras with good low-light photos and the best drones out there for photography.
We really appreciate everyone that has been helping us and those of you that are currently following us. You will start to see more posts about our planning now that we are getting closer to the big date! Stay tuned.....
I apologize that it has been a while since we have blogged about our trip planning and preparations. The truth is...it has been A LOT OF WORK! Let me get you all up to speed and then I will continue our BLOG weekly after this.
February was all about downsizing! From what we've read, this is the most challenging part for most people. Even though we don't buy a lot of "stuff", we just naturally accumulate things as you go. We've been in Florida for 12 years now, which is as long as I've ever been in one place so I definitely own much more than I did when I up and joined the military, up and moved to Hawaii, up and moved to NY, or up and moved to Tampa. For me, leaving behind non-sentimental items comes fairly easy, but over these last 12 years we definitely have increased the amount of sentimental items that we need to keep as well.
It took about 2 weeks to sort through and create piles of "stuff". Over here is a pile for donations, over there is a pile for items we are keeping that can go into storage immediately, over there is a pile of items that can go into storage, but not until we leave, and finally there is the pile for items that we are taking with us....the smallest pile yet, of course! Sorting and packing and sorting and packing. That is what we did through February. It wasn't very exciting and left us very little time for trip planning or fun stuff, so there wasn't much to write.
March came and we finally closed on the property that we had been wanting to purchase for years. We have been renting this property for about 7 years. It is the home of our business and a great investment property. The property has 4 units in it, 2 commercial, 1 apartment, and 1 house. Fortunately, the apartment was currently empty so we decided to stay there and save some money while we prepare for our trip. Around the same time we had a friend that was moving back to Tampa, and we were able to hire her as our Personal Assistant. She agreed to live in the other bedroom while she trains, and when we leave she has agreed to rent the apartment and take care of our cats while we are gone! SCORE!!!! Things were finally starting to come together!
Now, it was time to move. We loved our beautiful rental home with the pond in back. We would feed the birds each morning and the cats loved to watch them. We called it Dove TV. Now, it was time to say goodbye to the home, and our life as we have known it down here for the last 12 years. We would be downsizing from a 3000 Sq foot home into a 1200 Sq foot apartment that we would be sharing with our friend. We held a few garage sales and we were able to sell almost all of the furniture and large items that we were not planning on putting into storage. The rest was transferred to a room in our office for future sales. Moving took an entire week. We usually hire movers, but we were only moving 5 minutes away, and with all of the downsizing we didn't think it would take all that long. We were wrong! It was a grueling week that didn't seem like it was ever going to end. Finally, that last box was loaded and it was time to say goodbye to our wonderful neighbors. We were very fortunate to have an entire block of great people that took the time to get to know each other and looked out for each other.
The new investment property is from the 1950s so there is definitely some work to be done. It will be nice to know that our business has a set location while we are gone though. Can you imagine getting the call while in Japan that the landlords have sold and we have a month to be out? That would have been a headache. Now, we have a secured office space, and three rental properties...two that are already rented! The location is excellent for a business, and with the way our area is growing, we expect the property value to skyrocket soon. The lot is fairly large and zoned for Mixed Use. This area is exploding, changing from tomato farms and cow pastures to spas, beaches, and retail...lots of retail. We are not going to invest a lot into fixing the property up because we are hoping that some large corporation is going to offer us enough for it so we can truly retire in the next 5-10 years, but we do have some projects that need to be done so we will see how handy we are next month! Keep your fingers crossed for us!
All settled in, and we finally had some time to head back to NY and our new Grand-Godson :) A road trip back home to see family allowed us to try out the van and see what we like and what we need to change. Overall, we were very comfortable, the gas mileage was pretty good, and the ride was fairly smooth for a cargo van. We had some things to deliver back home so we weren't able to use the platform in the back, but even taking a nap in the front was fairly comfortable. The biggest drawback we found was the cup holders. We definitely need to find some alternatives to the ones they have installed. Other than that, with a few minor tweaks, our ride is ready to go!
So, here are a few things that we learned in Feb & March
1. If downsizing or planning a world trip, start packing a few months ahead to give you time to sort through everything.
2. Stop buying stuff NOW and use your money for experiences. It will save you lots of headaches later.
3. ALWAYS use a Title Company to close on a property! This saved us $18K on a bad loan from a previous owner!
4. ALWAYS hire a mover. We used a mover last time and it was a breeze. I honestly don't know what I was thinking!
5. To do lists are never done.
We made it back from our Washington D.C. trip last week and got back to work on our trip. We only had the opportunity to learn one thing about the van on this trip....check the parking garage heights before booking hotel rooms in large cities!!! Fortunately, Toni thought to check this out before we left and found out that our van, no higher than most SUVs, would be too high to park in their parking garage so we had to drive the car instead. Very valuable lesson learned. Once we arrived, we did learn that there was more clearance than posted online so now we know to call and check before booking. Most garages average 8 feet or more, but this one stated 6'2", which seemed to be the average in D.C., so it's important to find hotels that offer higher garages or outdoor parking options.
The March itself and our time in D.C. was an experience in itself. It was not our first trip there and certainly will not be our last, but it definitely was one of the most interesting experiences of my life. I'm not going to go into details here, because that's not what this Blog is for, but the trip still taught us a few things in regards to our upcoming adventure and overall was a successful trip.
Now that we are back, it is time to get back to the planning. This week we went through our house and started to sort through each large item and decide if we would store it, sell it, donate it, or trash it. Originally we had decided to keep a lot of our furniture....and then we watched Minimalist. It's a documentary about simplifying your life. Now, I have no desire to live that simply, not forever; however, we have never been much for buying "things". We prefer to spend money on travel and experiences, or buy things that provide us with experiences (kayaks, paddleboards, etc). Don't get me wrong, we own plenty of things. Most we have accumulated over the last decade or so. We just don't have many knick-knacks or useless things. Most everything that we have has a personal story behind it or some type of sentimental value to it. After really sitting down and trying to plan on how much we want to spend on storage, the value of these items, the ability to replace them when we return, and whether or not we would be wiling to ship them to us if we decide not to come back to Tampa played a large role in ultimately deciding to let go of most of these items. With the exception of some personal belongings and a few larger pieces of furniture and equipment, the rest will be sold. The downsizing process has begun and we have started to advertise some of the things that we can live without for the next few months. We also got rid of that ridiculous cable bill and have started using our Amazon and Netflix more. One of Toni's projects is to find ways that we can still stream some of the shows that we love while we are on the road. We have a ton of adventures lined up on this trip so it seems silly to be thinking about TV shows, but we do plan on having plenty of down time so we are on the go constantly, and it would be nice to have access to the shows that make us happy! I am going to open up the comments section on this blog post so you can chime in on what you are using for your TV enjoyment these days!
Another project that we are trying to finish this week is the closing on our investment property. This property is the same property that we have rented for the last 8 years for our business. Though we are trying to sell the business, we recognized that 1. This might not happen before we leave and it would be nice to know that we have the office secured while we are gone, and 2. It's a great investment in a fast-growing area and will provide us with rental income which will help pay for our travels. The property is under contract and we are just waiting for a closing date. We are very excited about this purchase, but we also realize that this will make some additional projects for us before we go. Once we have closed we will talk some more about those projects.
Toni has started her research into stops that she would like to make in the US. Though many seem to overlap, she has found some great resources online of some weird and mysterious type places that we will definitely be adding to the list. Once we publish our list we will make sure to provide you with the websites to this information! We also are opening up the comments section on this Blog Post so we can begin getting feedback from all of you on some of your most favorite places from back home, from where you live, and from where you have visited. We want to hear all of your stories about beautiful places, great restaurants, and some of the coolest experiences you've had. Please share!!!
We are starting to spend much more time preparing for the trip now so please make sure to like us on Facebook (@ThirdRockExplorations) and keep check our Blog for more information. We will have notifications set up soon via and RSS feed for those that don't want to miss a thing! Stay tuned...it's about to get crazy!!!
Toni has been working tirelessly on modifying the van so that we could have it ready for the trip to participate in the Women's March on Washington D.C. Next week will be our trial run with the van to see if we like the current set up. It will also give us the opportunity to tweak a few things and find out what other items might come in handy along the way. Certainly a 14 hour trip won't compare to an 18 month journey across two countries, but it should point out some of the more obvious issue we may run into.
As we mentioned in our first blog, we will be living out of the van and not in it so we just wanted to have a platform that we could use as a bed if we just need a quick nap, and then some storage for all of our clothes and gear underneath. Toni decided to build a series of crates that would allow us to move them if we need to and that would provide a long gap in the middle in case we needed to store something longer. The tops are removable to access everything in storage underneath. Toni also laid down some reflective insulation and a foam pad on the bottom to help regulate temperature, protect the floor, and reduce vibration. The tops have a camping foam pad attached to them followed by a think vinyl cover. This should provide a nice base. We then purchased a 3" thick memory foam pad to sleep on. Here is a slideshow of what Toni built...
This week we will get the wiring done on the hitch receiver we had installed last week, just in case we decide we need it sometime down the road. We also ordered a roof rack, which is getting installed this week. Besides that, we just need to start shopping for bins, shelves, and other storage items. After our trip next week I am sure we will come up with several things that we will want to add to the van. We did manage to find some nice and warm oversized sleeping bags this week that will be nice on those cool days that we nap in the van or that we are camping outside.
So, that is some of the progress that we made with the van this week. We will let you know what we find out after our road trip next week. It has been a busy couple of weeks and I am also making some progress with my planning as well! Will post those details soon!
For as long as I can remember I have wanted to travel. I feel as though it is in my blood, but it definitely wasn’t inherited. My parents have never been much into traveling. When I was young, my dad was a truck driver and for some time he drove across the country. I don’t remember, but I can imagine that my mom must have told me stories of my dad when he was on the road and all of the places he was driving to. Maybe my dad shared stories of the places he had seen once he returned home each time. I don’t know for sure, but something in me sparked my interest in travel at a young age. I’ve dreamed of doing many things in my life and though some of those dreams have changed, my love and desire for travel has not.
When I joined the Marine Corps, it wasn’t to see the world. One doesn’t join the Marine Corps for travel opportunities since there are limited bases outside of the US, and there are certainly easier ways to see the world than this. I was hoping to end up in Hawaii though. Instead, I got the grand tour of the South. This included Parris Island SC, Camp LeJeune NC, Fort McClellan, AL, and back to Parris Island. Keep in mind that Camp LeJeune was deemed toxic and closed at one point and Fort McClellan closed right after I left and as been named the most toxic place on the Earth. So, I wasn’t exactly seeing the most beautiful parts of the Country, to say the least, but I was still excited to be seeing new places. I would hop in my car whenever I had the chance and go out and explore the areas around me.
When I got out of the Marine Corps I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever it takes to at least semi-retire by the time I would have retired from the military, and I would go see the world. My goal was to go out and explore while I’m still young enough to experience it all without the aches and pains of old age holding me back! Since then, 2018 has been on my mind as the year I start my travels.
Upon discharge from the military, I hopped a flight to Hawaii and settled in there for a few years. Some people get island fever, but not me. There was always something new to explore, and if I got bored on one island I would hop to another to see what I could find. Living in Hawaii only fed my travel bug. I had many friends that were military and would talk about the places they had been and I would start adding those places to my “bucket list”. Hawaii was the most beautiful place I had ever been and now I wanted to go out and see more.
Money is always an issue that keeps people from their travels and was certainly my biggest concern. I was broke and living paycheck to paycheck. I knew I would have to return to school and get a degree so I could start my own business that would provide me with the financial means and the freedom to make this dream happen. I went back to college, moved back to NY, met the love of my life, moved to Tampa, finished two degrees, started a few businesses, and have continued to work hard towards my goal of travel. It hasn’t always been easy, but Toni has stood by me through it all and luckily she shares my love of travel.
In 2015 we started planning an 18 month 47 country world trip. No specifics, just started nailing down the places that we wanted to go. We started sharing our plans with friends and joking about how we need to travel soon before we fall apart. Little did we know how quickly all of those aches and pains would multiply and become chronic for both of us. Years of sports, work, military training, and playing in the toxic sludge in Alabama is starting to take it’s toll on me much sooner than we thought it would.
Toni’s car accident in 2015 would change everything for us. Not only did it leave her with some permanent injuries and chronic pain, but it seemed to be the catalyst for a series of events that led to an awful 2016 for us. We were hit with several reality checks in 2016 which gave me some perspective on life, my values, my passion, and what is really important. It also made me realize that our “good years” are quickly passing us by and that if we don’t get going soon, our bodies may limit how much we get out of this trip. We also realized that if things continue the way they are, the Earth’s “good years” will pass by as well and we will miss out on seeing things like the Great Barrier Reef (what’s left of it), and non-toxic lakes and rivers, and National Parks without the oil lines passing through them. Things just seem to be moving in the wrong direction. By the end of 2016 we were ready to move our trip up a year, but with a slight change. We decided that we would begin our trip in the United States and Canada and then continue on around the rest of the world, instead of saving the United States until later. The reason for the change? I am seeking hope.
I live in a country that I barely recognize right now. There has always been a divide and there has always been hate, but it seems to have multiplied significantly in recent months. I believe it’s because it’s what we focus on, what we are fed through the media. As we embark on this journey, in the back of my mind I know that the reality is that I may not decide to return if things continue in this direction. Yes, we are going from state to state to see the amazing sites that this country has to offer and to experience as much as we can, but it’s much more than that. I have made it a goal to go out and find positive stories that are happening in communities across the country. I want to meet people that are making a difference by doing good in the world. I want to be a part of the solution by spreading kindness everywhere we go. I want to see things that give me hope that this country isn’t everything that we see in the media. I want to find my own proof that there is more good, more tolerance, and more love than hate here. I want to learn about people and hear their stories. Travel is so much more than just seeing places. It’s about learning and growing. I hope that I find what I am looking for here, and around the world, and I hope that I can inspire others to go out and find and be a part of the good things happening all over this country.
This is my first Blog post, just 5 months, 3 days, 13 hours, and 38 minutes before we embark on our amazing journey. It’s the day after Christmas and it’s time to get to work! There is so much to plan and so much to do before we leave in May. The logistics behind planning an 18 month journey around the United States and Canada are enough on it’s own, but we also need to continue to plan our 18 month trip to 47 countries, which is to follow. At times it can be overwhelming, but we also know that we will have 18 months to finish planning the world trip, so today, we continue to focus on our first leg.
Since we know that we will visit all 48 Continental States (we have already explored Hawaii and Alaska), we had to do some research to find out what was interesting in each state and compare it to our own interests. Our interests generally include exploring nature and animals, beautiful architecture, and science and history. Activities we enjoy are hiking, camping, kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing, diving, white-water rafting, and biking. Oh, and let’s not forget food. Though neither of us are very adventurous when it comes to food, we do appreciate a good meal and will be seeking out some of the best restaurants around the country for some good local grinds (for my Hawaii friends)!
One thing that is making the of planning our trip easier is that we don’t have a definitive timeline. Since we haven’t been to many of these places we really don’t know what to expect, so we have decided to keep our plan fluid. This way we can cut certain parts short if we are bored or don’t think it’s worth the time, and we can add on other activities or places if we hear about something along the way or just want more time in a place that we are enjoying. This also will allow us to be flexible when it comes to weather!
We have the approximate route that we are planning on taking around the country and it factors in spending the approximate time that we are planning on being areas so that we can avoid as much cold and/or stormy weather as possible. No, we won’t be avoiding ALL of the cold and snow, but we will be minimizing it as much as possible. There are even some areas that we are actually hoping to catch when there is snow on the ground.
So, where are we going? I don’t have a point by point list ready to publish yet, and I am sure it will be tweaked a bunch of times before we go, but here is our preliminary map.
Last week, we purchased our travel van and Toni has begun the process of building it out. Keep in mind that we will be living out of the van, not in it. We will spend most of our time at hotels or camping in National and State Parks. When considering a car, vs a van, vs an RV we took into consideration gas mileage, storage, and the ease of driving and parking in cities, and resale value. The van was a clear winner. Toni did tons of research and decided to go with a Dodge Promaster City. We are familiar with these vehicles since we use similar ones in our business, but this van had a little more cargo space, better gas mileage, and it actually has a 9 speed transmission that give it enough power to tow! We won’t be towing anything this trip, but we feel it will come in handy later. So far, I am impressed with the quality of the van as well as it’s get-up-and-go! Here are the before pics of the van.
Our plans are to insulate and build a storage unit in the back that we will keep our belongings in, but will also give us the option to easily convert to a bed for those occasions that we just need a nap but don’t want to actually stop off an put up the tent or stay at a hotel. Again, we are living out of the van and not in it! Toni has taken the reigns on this project and she went out to Home Depot and Lowes to get everything needed to insulate and build the frame. She made some great progress today and is very excited. Here are some pictures of her working hard!
So, that’s it for today. This is Day 1 of our planning and prep with so much more ahead of us. As you can imagine, this huge change in our lives will be exciting and challenging and we are glad that we will have you following us along on this journey!