DETAILS - THE BIG PICTURE
-----Our granddaughter, when she was four-years old, liked to say (with her infectious smile), "Don't bother me with the details."
-----However, we have received many queries asking for the details about our cruising life. "How do you get mail? What about the dentist? Where do you have your bank account? How do you get cash? How do you do taxes? Can you get email?"
-----We have decided that, for those who wish to be bothered, we will share some details. We realize that everyone would do it differently, but this is how we do it.
What about the House?
------We suggest putting it 'in the bank.' Invest the money from the house sale, and it will, hopefully, grow somewhat faster than the rate of inflation and be ready for you if and when you decide to settle down again. Renting your house could be an invitation to a lot of bother - you don't want a call about a refrigerator going out when you're cruising Southeast Alaska. Besides, while cruising, you will (hopefully) learn to live comfortably with much less space and fewer things than you thought imaginable. You won't want a big house in the future, and think of all the beautiful waterfront locations you'll be scouting out as you cruise the waterways of America.
What about the Furniture?
------Same answer - sell it or give it away. Things are a bother, and the bill from storage would soon buy a housefull of new furniture. You (hopefully) will need fewer clothes and simpler furniture if you settle down again. We only kept our photographs and a few other sentimental items when we sold the house and gave away the furniture to kids or charity.
Don't You Miss 'A Base?'
------Like a boat misses an anchor. Sure, we miss cutting the lawn, paying property tax, weeding the garden, painting the trim, local politics, the sewer, light, and gas bill, or the same view out the window.
------A British journalist, Nico Colchester, wrote about the evolution of societies and applied his insight to cultures and people as well. He described a natural transition from "crunchy" to "squishy." Society (culture, our career, our life) usually starts out with challenges and uncertainties. Times weren't easy back in 1788, or the first few years at your new job, or the 'starvation times' of those first years of marriage. Things were "crunchy," but the challenges were stimulating and the days exciting for most of us. Then, slowly, times got easier and softer - the uncertainties melted away and the paycheck got bigger - and so did the house, the car, the electric bill, and the waistline. We were deluged with tv commercials to buy, buy, buy. We heard the constant refrain "that those who had the most, won" - and it was almost unAmerican to resist. 'Born to shop' - well, think about it. Is that really why you were born? That's all there is to life?
------Most days began to follow a comfortable pattern. Off to work five days a week and shop, fix, mow, cut, paint, and patch on the weekends. Oh sure, there were the occasional 'adventure' holidays and the rough spots. But, life slowly became "squishy."
------We often speak with folks who kinda mist over when they say, "Our best times were in the little camper, before we bought the 42-foot motor home," or "Wasn't it fun, hon, in that little 22-footer -- back before the big trawler took over our lives?"
------ We prefer crunchiness in our lives. We did even in our former work-a-day lives. Yes, off to teaching for five days a week. Then, every weekend, we were outdoors ("Not hiking the Grand Canyon again?" - from a kid) and every school vacation and three-month summer holiday, we were camping, rafting, hiking, canoeing, or exploring around overseas.
------ At age fifty, we even quit those jobs we loved. Chucked it all in. Bought a 20-foot motor home and kicked around. Our kids labelled it, "Drifter." Then, we parked it and for six months, through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Everything we needed we carried on our backs. We sold the 20-foot motor home and bought a 20-foot sailboat and moved aboard for three years. Now, for five years, we've lived in our little camper or our 22-foot powerboat. We still kick around overseas part of each year.
------Our homes are 12-volt worlds, and we generate it by our engines or solar cells. Think of it - giving up all those 110 (or 220) volt things. In about three steps, we can be in the kitchen, living room, or bedroom. It's what we can do without that's important - that's what gives us freedom.
------Things are anchors. You don't own them - they own you. Cut the anchor line and the choices are exhilarating (and a little frightening). Kinda like the first days of school or marriage or job. You know - crunchy!
As Nomads, Where are you Resident?
-----Our 'home' state is Nevada, where we lived and taught before our nomadic lifestyle (by the way, we have now been nomadic longer than we have previously lived in any one place.) We own no home, so can choose any state for residence but it should have "legitimacy." It should be the state where you have an address for mail, bank accounts, voter registration, etc. That, for us, is Nevada.
-----We are registered to vote in our home town of Nelson, a ghost town. Since our spectral neighbors are few, everyone in town automatically is mailed an absentee ballot - perfect, for us nomads.
-----Nevada has the added advantgage of no state income tax. Now we don't object to a state tax, but when you're a nomad and don't receive the benefits of the tax, it doesn't seem right to pay it. So our only tax, other than sales taxes, is Federal.
Where is your Boat Registered?
----Boats, by law, must be registered in the state of most use. This is not necessarily your state of residence. If you leave your Oregon registered boat at a Florida marina, where you have paid an annual slip fee, it doesn't matter where YOU live - the boat must be re-registered in Florida.
-----Well, when you are as nomadic as we are, never long in any slip, what state do we pick? We have no idea what state we will be in the longest in 2004. So, we picked Oregon as our boat's state of residence since that's where we bought Halcyon and knew we would be cruising the most while doing the check-out work on the boat - and Oregon it has remained. They mail our registration forms to our Nevada address every year.
What about a Vehicle?
------We bought our C-Dory, Halcyon, in part because it is easy to trailer. We have since trailered it to "all three coasts and many of the lakes and rivers between." So, a good tow vehicle has been essential for us. The disadvantages of owning a truck and a boat are obvious - we have to find a temporary 'home' for the truck when we are cruising, and must return to the truck before moving on to a new area. However, neither of these 'problems' have given us any difficulty - yet! Serendipity always strikes. A friend offers a back yard, a marina has safe storage at a reasonable cost, a park offers storage in their equipment yard ... something. And getting back to the truck can always be done by turning the boat around, renting a car, taking a bus, a ride with a friend ... something. Again, serendipity has always resolved the return trip and it has always been a good experience for us.
------So, we encourage you to have a good tow vehicle -- sell the MG!
How hard is towing?
------With a good tow vehicle and a good trailer, it is not difficult. Sure, there are times when it's a pain - like a flat tire (change those tires every three years) or when you pull into a gas station with no turning room. But, these are usually minor problems and worth the freedom that comes with mobility. It pays to have a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at yourself!
------Oh - the boat makes a dandy RV when on the road. It is great for 'camping' - we pull into KOA with the 'big rigs' (that's where I'm writing this), find a pull-through site, and settle in. We fix meals, read a book, relish the shower - all the luxuries, and our own bed, for about $25/night.
------We often fuel at truck stops along the freeway where there's plenty of room for truck and trailer. And, meals en route are often at Cracker Barrel (good ol' southern 'meat and three') and always space for 'RV parking.'
What about Money?
------ Seems there are three (legal) solutions:
------------ 1. Have a rich uncle - (don't we wish?)
------------2. Work for your money - cruise during vacations, or have a means of earning money that allows you to cruise while working. We have friends who cruise until they run out of money, then go to work to build up more 'freedom chips,' then cruise again. This can be a bit nerve-wracking but, with the right skills and chutzpah, can be done.
------------ 3. Let your money work for you - let pensions, Social Security, investments, or other savings 'spin off' enough money to keep you bankrolled. This takes some careful figuring and not a little luck. This is how we do our cruising, being retired and having invested most of our working lives with Fidelity mutual funds.
What about Banking?
------This is easy. Our savings are all in Fidelity mutual funds. We have a "core account" with Fidelity that gives us free checking and a free Visa debit card. The bank is in Missouri, and we have never seen it. Our pensions are put in by auto depositing. Our fixed expenses (health insurance, long-term care insurance) are auto- paid. We write checks to pay for other bills (or "bill pay" directly from our Fidelity account through the Internet). Bills are few and far between when you don't own a house.
What about Cash?
------Our cash needs are from a 'cash advance' on our Visa debit card (no charge, when we get our cash from a bank teller - we don't use a.t.m.'s). We have picked up cash with this technique all over the world (and have a few tales to tell about this enjoyable process). We receive a monthly statement, and can receive a daily e-mail of our balance in the core account). Voila -- done!
What about Credit Cards?
------ We have a credit card for daily purchases. We pay it by check once a month, so have plenty of 'float' before the payment is due. We have always paid off credit card debt in full each month - we don't like to pay interest. If the mailed bill doesn't reach us in time, due to our travels, El remembers to call, get a balance, and mail a check before the due date.
What about a Doctor and Dentist?
------Our doctor is in our old home town in Nevada. We swing by for annual checkups and visits with our old friends. Our dentist is in the town with one of our kids, and we stop by to see him several times a year and get a nice visit with family at the same time. They enjoy the visits with 'their gypsies' and always fit us into their schedules.
What about Medications?
------They are sent by mail, in three-month increments, or we can pick them up at a WalMart or Walgreen pharmacy (they are everywhere, and linked by computers). El knows the national contact for Walgreen's by first name and she 'always takes care of her boat person.'
What about a Telephone?
------In a world of cellular phones, this is easy. We have a nationwide single payment plan so have no roaming charges. When in Canada, we call our service and they add Canadian coverage for a small extra. We don't always have service when cruising in remote areas, but seldom are beyond range for more than a few days. We also have an 800-number message service through Family Motor Coach Association ($25/yr) where we leave and pick up messages with our kids almost every day.
What about Laundry?
------Many marinas have laundry facilities, and KOA campgrounds all have them when we are on the road trailering to new water. We rarely use the same laundry twice.
What about the Porta Potty?
------Marine porta potties are marvelous. They are simple to use (a seat is a seat is a seat, eh?). On Halcyon, we have a 'Minehune' who dumps the potty and keeps it clean (El never does it - that was part of the 'deal' we have with each other - El remembers the grandkid's birthdays, I do the potty). Dumping and cleaning is simple - sometimes at a marina, always when on the road at those great KOA RV dump facilities. Don't buy the nonsense that you need a full-size marine head - we've been there - they are difficult to maintain, a pain to find dumps, and MUCH more difficult than the simple, almost full-proof porta potty. Besides if something breaks on the potty, they can be replaced for a hundred bucks or so (and we've never replaced one). Sorta like a Timex that flushes, eh?
------El won a contest in Canada our first year on Halcyon - she knew the answer to the question, 'what's the most important safety feature on a boat?' - a life jacket, and won a jug of marine head deodorant that we still use four years later.
What about a Shower?
------Most marinas have them and all KOA's. We swim several times a day during summer when in fresh water (salt water is fine, also, with a fresh water rinse afterwards - the salt crystals itch when sleeping). We use biodegradable soap and it's fine, fresh or salt. We also have a sun shower - inexpensive, simple and available at all camping stores. We fill it with fresh water, leave it in the sun a few hours when at anchor, and have a hot shower or rinse.
What about Mail?
------We have a mail-forwarding service we have used for almost 20 years - Bee's Mail Forwarding in Boulder City, NV. They do an excellent job at a reasonable price. It keeps a Nevada address for us, they throw away all the junk mail, screen for only the catalogs we have on our forwarding list, and send mail every Friday. We call them with an 800-number during the week to give them the Post Office address (general delivery) and pick it up on Monday. We don't get mail every week - don't need to since we have few bills, few letters (because of email), and no junk. Our requirement is to find a post office along our route. It must be in walking distance of a marina, if cruising, so we usually receive mail 'between cruises' when trailering to our next destination (careful - most post offices do not have parking for a truck and trailer). We pick small towns for mail where it is easy to find the p.o. and there is street parking. We even try to choose towns with an interesting name. When I went into the p.o. in Adam's Run, the lady handed me our packet without my saying a word. When I asked her how she knew it was me, she answered, "What you don't know, mistah, is that everyone in Adam's Run is black." So, getting mail is easy and fun.
What about E-Mail and Internet?
------Pocketmail makes a dandy little device that sells for about $100 with an annual usage fee of about $150. You hold it up to any telephone (and some cell phones), push a button, and you send and receive e-mail. We use this for family and friends. It has a small but perfectly usable keyboard and screen and is easy to use.
------We carry a lap-top computer with us on the boat. Internet is now increasingly available through Wi-Fi at marinas and campgrounds. Of course, you can still beg or borrow a phone hook-up for a direct line. An addition - we now have a wireless 'aircard' from Dell that automatically links us to Verizon service and can get e-mail and Internet almost anywhere from the boat or camper.
What about News?
------We have a 12-volt TV with a two-inch screen that we haven't turned on in a year - whew! We have a small radio we sometimes turn on to NPR. Of course, there is no newspaper. So, we are delightfully free of garbage news and TV. We have a subscription to The Economist, an excellent British weekly news magazine we receive in the mail - keeping up with reading it takes an evening at anchor. We find we are better informed of national and international news than most land-bound friends who get their news bites off TV. We also receive news through the Internet, using our wireless 'aircard.'
What about Family and Friends?
------We see the kids and grandkids often - being nomads allows us freedom to come visit - and they love to visit with us for their waterside holidays. We all get together for one week of camping every year, each time to a different place. We have been to the birth of every grandkid and are available to cover whenever our kids and spouses want a holiday together or when there are health crises with their families -- a nomadic parent can be "just plain useful" for the kids.
Did you Modify your Boat to Live Aboard?
------Very little. The C-Dory 22-foot cruiser is well-designed for our needs. We requested a few factory options, such as the front-opening window for better air circulation.
------We also opted for the Wallas stove. They are expensive but worth every penny. They burn Clear Lite, a clean, odorless, colorless kerosene substitute, available at Home Depot. There is no open flame so no moisture or carbon monoxide is added to the cabin like other stoves. One 'tank' filling of about a liter lasts us several weeks for daily cooking and heating, so it is inexpensive to run. The lid has a built-in fan, when closed it gives forced-air heating for the cabin. We have stayed toasty warm with outside temperatures in the twenties. We have been using it for four years and it still works beautifully. (2007 Note -- after six years of heavy use, we have just replaced our Wallas to assure us reliable and excellent service with an updated stove/heater).
------We have added an egg-carton camping-type mattress to our V-berth, that we cut to shape. This bunk is the most comfortable bed we have ever had and we sleep like babies rocked in our cradle by the waves. Some folks might find the V-berth too tight, but we think of it as snug. With the hatch open, there is plenty of fresh air.
------We opted for no built-in icebox, and use that space under the pilot seat for food and cooking pot storage. We have a five-day ice chest in the cockpit for our cold food needs, and most marinas have ice.
------The cockpit is covered with a 'camper back' to keep the it dry. This adds an extra room for us, usable rain or shine. We take the sides and back off in good weather, leaving a bimini top for shade. We spend a lot of time in the cockpit when at anchor.
------A friend made curtains for our windows to give privacy in marinas and to shield low summer sun at anchor.
------We added mosquito netting under the forward hatch, since we sleep with the hatch up summer or winter. The open hatch helps keep condensation from forming in the V-berth.
What are the Expenses?
------El and I had a delightful time while trailering across Idaho figuring out a rough estimate of costs to answer this question. Everyone spends their money for different things and in differing amounts, but this is what being a nomad costs us.
Boat expenses only:
------Fuel: average miles traveled per day (when underway): 50 miles. We average about 5 mpg so this totals about 10 gpd. Therefore, fuel costs about $20-30 per day at today's marina prices. We fill on land before cruising, when we can, to lower costs. Towing the boat with our diesel truck costs about $50 per long driving day.
------Food: about the same as "home." We eat out for lunch about 4 days per week, and when we do, we have a very light supper. We rarely eat out for evening meal (ever try to anchor a boat in the dark?) So, our food costs are about $200 per week. We are not big eaters, but life's too short not to enjoy good wine.
------Marinas: they cost about $15-25 per night, variable depending on region. The northeast is pricey, and the Gulf Coast inexpensive, as a generality. We stay in a marina about one night a week when cruising, to use the amenities. We prefer the quiet and 'close to nature' of anchoring. A KOA campground, on the road, is about $20-30 per night.
------Insurance: Boat US insurance is about $350/year.
------Engine Servicing: Every 200 hours, about $175 (with two Honda 40's) - about $40 if you do it yourself.
------Navigation: Blue Charts for our Garmin chartplotter are about $100 per region. Paper charts (Fish-n-Map Co.) are about $10 per cruise area.
------Parking (for truck when boat cruising, or for boat when truck cruising): sometimes about $2 per night.
------We've probably forgotten some costs, but most other costs you pay in "home" life, such as medical insurance, taxes, gifts, truck servicing, etc. and you have the answers to those costs.
Simplicity is the secret to easy cruising!
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