One issue that stops some people from adapting the mobile lifestyle is the question of how will they stay close to their family? We all love the idea of moving away from cold country in the winter (especially with the terrible winter many of you are having now!) but it has the down-side that you also have to move away from family and friends. That’s bad enough but for many of you ladies the worst part is having to move away from the grand-babies—now that’s a tragedy! Many vandwellers have very strong maternal instinct toward their grandchildren and need to see them often.
In this post I want to try to reconcile our longing for freedom to travel and our equal need to stay connected to family. We’ll do that by exploring different options you have to connect and visit with your family. I know that sounds weird, I mean, we all live on wheels so why wouldn’t we just drive back to see them? While it’s true we all live on wheels but it’s equally true the majority of us are on fairly tight budgets and the cost of driving across the country is prohibitive to our already stretched checkbook. We need to find the most cost effective way to visit without breaking the bank.
The modern world has so many wonderful means of communications we can stay in pretty close contact with our families electronically so that’s the first step.
- Phone Calls: Long distance on our cell phones is so cheap it’s easy to stay in touch from anywhere. Voices carry so much more emotion than any letter on a screen it’s well worth taking the time to make a phone call.
- Skype: Actually being seen and heard real-time during a video chat is a big step forward that it’s worth figuring out how to do it!
- Email: Adult family members are probably content with an email, but children less so. Their lives are changing so fast and they literally need to periodically see and touch the members of their family for them to be real to them. Otherwise they could see you as just another character in a book or TV show. We want to be more than that to them.
- Letters, Cards and Post-Cards: Anything handwritten, even if it’s short, has a strong impact on other people far in disproportion to the amount of time and work they take. They really are a good habit to get into with your loved ones.
Doing all those things are invaluable and they do work to keep you in touch. But they probably aren’t enough for most of us. Every so often your loved ones need a hug and kiss from you to keep the fires of their love burning bright. None of us want our grandchildren to grow up not knowing who we are.
Go for a Visit
I’m writing this in my mom’s living room in Lady Lake, Florida, which is about two hours northeast of Orlando. I know many people have strained relationships with their parents, but I’m not one of them; I love spending time with my mom and try to do so as often as I can! Of course she’s in Florida and I’m out West so we live pretty far apart. I don’t see her as often as I’d like because of the distance and cost, but I try to get over there at least every other year, and hopefully every year.
The question I want to address in this post is should we drive or should we fly? Even though I live in a van, I almost always fly. I drove back one time to see my mom and ever since then I’ve been flying because of it’s many hidden costs. We all think of the cost of gas but there are many other costs that aren’t obvious so we overlook them. Let me show you what I mean:
- Cost of Gas–$1,012: It’s about 2200 miles one-way (or about 4400 miles round-trip) so it’s an expensive trip. I’m assuming your van gets about 15 MPG and with gas at $3.45 it will cost $1,012 in gas. But as we all know gas is exceptionally cheap right now, so if it were today and gas cost $2.29 a gallon it would only cost $671. I only get 12 mpg, so at $3.45 a gallon I’d have typically spent $1265. That’s a lot of money!
- Oil Change–$50: I’ll need an oil change afterwards so that’s at least $50. If you change oil every 3,000 miles it will be 1 ½ oil changes or $75
- Wear on tires–$60: Another cost that’s easy to miss is the wear on tires. If your tires last 44,000 miles then this trip of 4,400 miles is 10% of their life. Replacing the tires will be about $600 so that’s $60 toward new tires.
- Mechanical Wear: But that’s not all, there is also wear and tear on every part of the van but especially the engine, transmission and brakes. It’s nearly impossible to quantify that into a number but let’s look at my van as somewhat typical. Money’s tight for me so I have a 2002 Chevy van with 165,000 miles on it. Based on past experience I’m assuming I’m likely to get to 200,000 miles before I start having to put major repairs into it. That’s only 35,000 miles away so these are very important miles—once they’re gone I’m planning to either decide to start putting lots of money into the van or getting rid of it for a newer van with less miles. This trip is almost 15% of the trouble-free miles I have left—do I really want to bring on those repairs that fast?
- Time: I don’t like driving long days so driving the 2500 miles from Quartzsite, AZ to Lady Lake, FL takes about a week of tedious, boring driving to drive each way. I usually spend three weeks there so it takes me 5 weeks including driving. That’s a big chunk of the winter and almost doubles my total trip time.
- Driving is hard on your pets: Long drives of multiple thousands of miles are hard on your pet who is bored and stuck in the van all day for almost a week. I didn’t want to put Cody through that so I left him at home with Judy who loves him and he loves her. He’ll miss me while I’m gone but he’ll adapt quickly–and I’ll be home before he knows it. If you have pets and don’t have anyone to leave them with then you would need to factor in the cost of boarding them while you’re gone. If I couldn’t leave Cody with someone who loved him, I would have driven rather than board him. It would break my heart to think of him feeling abandoned and hopeless while I was off having fun without him–I couldn’t do that to him! I’d rather spend the money and time driving and keep him happy.
So you can see that the total cost of driving is pretty high. At the minimum it’ll cost me $1200-$1500 hundred to drive and a lot of boring miles of driving.
I choose to Fly Instead
When I did the math and saw how much it costs to drive, I wanted to compare the costs to flying because I was sure it would be less expensive. I found out it was much cheaper and was going to be much less stressful than a very long drive through bad weather, so that’s what I did. Here are my costs:
- Cost of Airline Ticket–$420: I flew out of Phoenix because it’s a hub and therefore it’s cheaper. I searched for the best fares on Orbitz and the cheapest to Orlando was about $360. But, they all involved multiple stops along the way and flying overnight or at very early or late times. My mom is 80 so I don’t want to have her picking me up or dropping me off in the middle of the night so I went ahead and spent the money to get a non-stop flight that departed and arrived at very reasonable hours. It also makes the flight much less stressful and pleasant for me so I consider it money well spent. That ticket cost me $420.
- Airport Parking–$105: Because we are about 150 miles from the Phoenix airport, I didn’t want to ask Judy to make that long round-trip twice; especially with how stressful it can be to get into and out of airports. Instead I found a long term parking garage and left the van in it. I’ve done it before and they make it as painless as possible by having shuttles constantly running right from your car to the terminal. In the time I was getting my baggage out of the van and covering the windshield three shuttles drove by. I pre-paid the bill which cut the cost in half so it was $105 for 21 days in Long-Term Storage.
- Gas to Drive to Phoenix–$75: I had to drive 300 miles round-trip to Phoenix to get to the airport so I’m counting that as a cost. However, on the return trip home from the airport I’ll stop and shop in Phoenix so I could probably count it as a shopping trip instead.
The total cost of driving was at least $1200 and the cost of flying was half of that at $630. That left no doubt in mind I would fly. An equally large part of the decision was that I wouldn’t enjoy that long of a trip. I enjoy driving if there are things along the way to see and do, but there were none on this trip—it would just be covering miles. Plus, the Polar Vortex was clobbering the south with ice and snow and I did NOT want to drive through that if I could avoid it.
The bottom line is you can be a nomad who stays connected to your family! Here’s a simple way to do it:
- To fly home once a year, save $50 a month, $600 a year.
- To fly home once every other year, save $25 a month, $300 a year.
Most of us can do that. Get started today and show your family how much you love them!