Nomad Life & Expenses June 2023

Heading east through the Sierra Madre Oriental in Nuevo Leon, México on June 1st.

We had just crested an incline when the whirl of Ballena Blanca’s engine suddenly went quiet and stopped. We were on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge crossing over the Mississippi River into Baton Rouge, Louisiana. With the forward momentum we had left, Greg maneuvered the van through the traffic whizzing by us into the right lane and parked her on the shoulder of an exit ramp. 

Greg got out and popped the hood to look for an answer for our loss of power. Before I had time to follow him outside a MAP (Motorist Assistance Patrol) vehicle had pulled up behind us and Greg was talking to the operator. The MAP operator pulled a contraption out of his truck, connected it to our battery, unconnected it, shook his head, and radioed for more help. Within a few minutes, a MAP tow truck arrived. The plan was for the first vehicle to push the van to a larger shoulder and then for the tow truck to hook Ballena Blanca up and tow her off the busy highway. We rode in the van while being pushed and then got into the other truck and followed Ballena Blanca as she was towed to an Alberson’s parking lot.

Apparently, Alberson’s was used to this scenario and we were assured that it was no problem to be parked there for a while. Greg started calling Ford Service Centers. I started disaster planning in my head. We got lucky. One of the service centers, Robinson Brothers Ford, could look at the van the next day. Every other one Greg called didn’t have any appointments for months. I called our insurance company for a tow which arrived hours later. The tow guy loaded our beloved Ballena Blanca up on his rack and took her to the Ford place, leaving us standing in a grocery store parking lot in a town we knew nothing about. I checked a link my insurance had sent me. We had a $15 credit with Lyft. I downloaded the app and requested a ride. We arrived at the service center as they were closing, just in time to fill out the paperwork. I found a cheap-ish hotel about a mile away. I filled a bag with a week’s worth of clothes, grabbed the computer bag and all of our devices, loaded a bag with any non-refrigerable food items we had on hand, and tossed all of our cosmetics into another bag. Greg grabbed the beer. We called another Lyft to take us and all of our stuff to the hotel.

We had left Mexico only 4 days earlier ending the saga of the broken transmission and our rush to the border with before we became illegal aliens in a foreign country (with one day to spare). Fortunately, despite our rush, we had just enough time to visit a few friends before we left the country. Back in December, just days into the start of our Mexican journey we met Chris and Juan who live in Santiago, Nuevo Leon. Stopping to visit them the days before we returned to the US, it felt as if we were ending our Mexican adventure where we had started it, with amazing hospitality, and now good friends.

Dinner with Chris and Juan at Iannilli, an Italian restaurant in Monterrey.

Once we were across the border and back in the US, we headed for Austin, Texas. In Austin just a little over 6 months previous, I had reconnected with an old friend named Greg, from my very brief commune days. We had also done some house-sitting during that time and had made new friends with pet owners, Laura and Griffin. We spent a couple of nights camping in Greg’s driveway and had a nice dinner with Laura and Griffin.

There was a lot of driving ahead of us and a lot more people to visit so we moved on pretty quickly. After leaving Texas and a night parked in a rest area, our next stop was to visit my niece, Ariadne, and her husband, Ian, in New Orleans. From there we would continue across the country to visit more friends and family.

At the hotel in Baton Rouge, I started contacting everyone in our forward path telling them we weren’t going to make it. Our friend Debbie was planning a party for Greg’s birthday in 4 days. I texted her to cancel it. More disaster planning – I looked at bus schedules to New Orleans and even thought about flying to Greg’s parents’ house in North Carolina. We had no idea what was wrong with the van or how long it would take to fix it.

After talking to my friend Karen on the phone I realized that I might have been overreacting. Perhaps it was nothing. Maybe it could be fixed right away and we could still see everyone and make it to the party if I just cut our visit with my niece short by one day. Maybe it wouldn’t be a disaster. I texted Debbie back and told her to not cancel the party yet.

The next morning we decided to save the money and walk to Ford. We loaded ourselves up with our 4 bulging overnight bags and walked to Robinson Brothers. We piled all our gear up around a table camped out in the waiting room and waited.

About 3 hours later they gave us the diagnosis. It was a blown fuse for the fuel pump. Inside the engine compartment is a fuse box. We had no idea this compartment existed. Somehow the 20 amp fuel pump fuse got switched out for a 10 amp fuse. We thought back to when we initially got the van back from the transmission shop in Oaxaca. When we left the cargo doors open (as we like to go to get air in the van) the interior van lights came on. We had pulled the fuse for this light from the interior fuse box 7 years ago when we first outfitted the van. Someone had replaced it. I guess we can’t really say how the fuse in the engine compartment got switched but it appears someone was playing musical chairs with fuses while the van was out of our possession. We are sure lucky this fuse didn’t blow until we returned to the US.

Fuse box in the engine compartment.

We were back on the road again by noon. I texted my niece that we were coming, and texted Debbie that the party was still on.

From my niece’s house, we continued east and made stops in Peachtree City to see an old college friend of mine, Natalie, Cabbagetown for Greg’s birthday, Greenville, SC to see our friends David and Michelle, and to retrieve some things I had left in their attic a year and a half previously, and then finally landed at Greg’s partents’ house in North Carolina to rest for a few days.

After catching our breath we hit the road again, this time to St. Louis. There we dropped off some of the stuff, negatives and slides, I had retrieved from Michelle and David’s attic with a friend, Greg, who will scan them for me. We had a nice time visiting with Greg and his wife Natalie. We saw one other friend, Dane from my punk rock days, while we were in St. Louis, spending the day visiting some of the free museums in Forest Park. From St. Louis, we drove to Pennsylvania to visit my cousins and their families before heading back to Greg’s parents’ in North Carolina.

The Expenses

Notes about us, some of our expenses, and our rig:

  • All expenses are in US dollars.
  • We drive a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van that we upfitted ourselves to live in. Currently, the van gets about 17 miles to the gallon.
  • Our van is registered in Florida as a standard cargo van. Our van insurance is through USAA.
  • We are vegetarians and we cook – eating little packed or prepared food.
  • We get our health insurance through the ACA exchange in Florida. Our insurance is very basic and is mostly good only in Florida where we are residents, but hardly ever visit. Our costs for health insurance are one of the few things we don’t include in this report.
  • Our phone plan is with Google Fi. We pay a monthly fee of $110 plus tax for two people which gives us unlimited calling and text (in the US, Canada, & Mexico) and up to 50 gigs of high-speed internet per person. Our data plan works internationally at no extra cost. With Google Fi, we can make phone calls over wifi from our phone, tablet, or computer. The plan provides an extra sim card for our tablet at no extra cost. At any time we can switch to a metered plan which costs $20 a month for phone and text and $10 for each gig of data we use.
  • We receive our mail through St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, Florida. We pay $11.99 per month for the basic service plus an extra $7.99 to have the envelopes scanned and posted online where we have the option for small additional fees to have the envelopes opened and the contents scanned. There are additional charges if we want anything sent to us on the road. We keep $100 in an account with the service. When this runs low they charge us another $100.
  • Our dentist is in Los Algodones, Mexico. If you would like to read more about our experience with our Mexican dentist, click here.

And our total expenses for June were…


Here is the breakdown of categories…

Expenses June 2023
Gas $768.02
Insurance/Registration $163.86
Maintenance $94.24
Repairs $368.32
Van Total $1,394.44
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $0.00
Utilities $0.00
Camping $78.75
Household $0.00
Laundry $0.00
Showers/bathroom $0.00
Tolls/Parking $32.24
Van Life Total $110.99
Phone $123.38
Mail Service $100.00
Communication Total $223.38
Food $274.64
Booze $194.51
Cleaning/Paper Products $4.57
Medicine Cabinet $59.94
Consumables Total $533.66
Drinks/Eating Out $421.70
Museums/Attractions/Music $90.00
Entertainment Total $511.70
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $129.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $129.00
Clothes $0.00
Gifts/Charity $0.00
Gear $20.00
Personal Total $20.00
*Utilities include our water, propane for the stove and heater, and items that are required to run our composting toilet.
*Gear is anything we think we need but probably don’t. These are the things that make our life more fun and interesting, and keep us entertained and informed. Our NY Times subscription goes here. As well as expenses for hobbies, computer devices, books, kayaks, bikes, etc. These are the things that make us not quite minimalist.

It was a big month for Van Expenses. We burned a lot of gas ($768.02). We had to get Greg a new driver’s license and unfortunately, we let it expire so we had to pay a penalty (all total, $72.00). I put this expense under Insurance/Registration because it pertains to driving the van. Insurance was $91.86. We spent $94.24 on an oil change (maintenance). And of course the was the repair expense. To find out that we had a blown fuse cost us $203.30 and our Lyft rides (one out of pocket, and one out of pocket for the tip) which I included with this expense added up to $13.75 for a total of $217.05. The rest of the repair expense, $151.27, is the total of what we have spent so far on our current ongoing windshield-wiper repair problem. More on that one next month.

I rolled the hotel room expense ($64.75)  into my Camping category. Perhaps I should have stuck that in repairs too? We also had one actual camping expense ($14) on our trip to St. Louis. We drove quite a few toll roads ($26.15) to get out of Mexico. The remainder in that the Tolls/Parking expense is the difference between the amount of the deposit we had paid for our Temporary Vehicle Import (TIP) when we entered Mexico and the amount we got back. Since the exchange rate was more favorable when we entered Mexico than when we left, this refundable deposit ended up costing a few dollars ($6.09). Four years ago when we returned our TIP the opposite was true and we made money on the deal.

We had to throw another $100 into our mailbox account which made our Communication total a little higher than usual.

Our Consumables ($533.66) are back down to a reasonable amount since we are no longer stress-eating or self-medicating.

Entertainment was a bit high ($511.70). This happens when we see friends and family – which we saw lots of in June. We also treated a lot (and we were treated).

And now that we are back in the US it is time again to think about our Health. Greg had an eye exam ($129.00). There will be more expenses for new contacts next month.

To see all of our expense reports, click here.

If you are interested in reading other expense reports from nomads who really know how to live cheaply while still having a good time, check out the blog from our friends Mark, Liesbet, and Maya at Roaming About.

The Camping/Sleeping Report

Here are our camping/sleeping stats. All stays are free except where indicated.

6 – nights parked in friends’ driveways
3 – nights at rest stops
1 – night in a hotel ($64.75)
18 – nights in friends’ and families’ homes
1 – night at a campground ($14)
1 – night at a Boondockers Welcome location

The view at Seven Points Campground.

Map and Miles

We drove 4037 miles in June. Our cost for gas per mile was 20¢.

Mexico Tips

This isn’t so much a tip as me describing our border crossing.

We took our time leaving our friends in Santiago, NL the morning of our crossing and arrived at Puente Internacional Solidaridad-Colombia, the road that would take us across the border and back into the US,  close to 2 pm.

Turning right off of Highway 2 onto Puente Internacional, we followed the sign that told us to stay in the left lane designated for autos. But there were a whole lot of trucks blocking the lane, a whole lot of really big trucks. It didn’t look good. The trucks seemed to be way too big to make the turn. It was impossible to see what was going on ahead and whether the situation would get remedied soon so we just did what everyone else was doing and followed some cars down the highway to the next place to turn right. Unwittingly we ended up going the wrong way on a one-way road. But it worked. When we saw our chance we crossed back over to our road and got around the truck jam.

Returning our TIP was super easy. About a mile and a half down the Puente Internacional road, we found the Banjercito booth. We pulled over. An inspector came out. We gave him our TIP. He took some pictures of the van and we were on our way.

Just a short drive further we paid a toll to cross the Columbia Bridge. Once again we reunited with the logjam of trucks. We crossed the bridge and were back in the US. The trucks peeled off to the right and we could finally see the customs booth ahead. The line was short. When it was our turn we showed our passports, answered a few questions, and were on our way – to roam freely in the US once again.

Despite the trucks, this crossing was easy peasy.  It was very clear where we needed to go, the wait was very short, and we weren’t hassled at customs. This may have been our easiest exit from Mexico. We will definitely be using this crossing again.

BTW – if you are curious about our other México border crossings, check out this link to read what we have written about each one.

Right Now

We are on our last morning at a house sit in Greenville, SC.  This is our second house sit of the summer. Visiting with friends was big fun but we are really glad to be able to slow down a bit and have our own space.

We are leaving here today for Lake Keowee to spend the weekend with Greg’s children, their spouses, and the grandchild, Gabriel. Then there is a camping get-together followed by over a month of house-sitting.

We are spending our time studying Spanish and planning what we need to start doing for our trip to Ecuador this fall.

Greg and Me in front of a statue of Saint Louis outside the St. Louis Art Museum.

*Click pics to enlarge, read captions, and view in a slide show.

4 thoughts on “Nomad Life & Expenses June 2023

  1. Duwan, I didn’t know you were from Altoona. My father was born there and I still have at a couple of cousins living nearby. He eventually went to Bellefonte, PA to run a clothing shop for his boss and met my mother there. I have lots of cousins there too.
    I also remember going over Horseshoe Curve on the Pennsylvania Railroad as a kid before they shut down passenger service after WWII. I spent my summers in Bellefonte with stops in Altoona to visit a couple of aunts and an uncle.
    When you get back to Atlanta give me a call or send an email and we can get together somewhere.

    1. Actually, my father is from Altoona. I grew up in St. Louis. I don’t think we have any family still in Altoona. My cousins live in Everett, a small town about 45 minutes away in Bedford County near Breezewood.

      But I’ve heard many stories about Altoona.

      We will be in Atlanta for all of August. We’ll give you a call.

  2. Wow, you two had an extremely busy June! I’m glad you get to relax a bit and slow down (and publish blog posts) during these house sits. And, I’m sure July will be a cheaper month as well. Especially the fuel bill!

    We are on our last ten days in Ecuador and with cheap gas ($2.40 a gallon). In Peru, we will pay more than twice that, so we will have to slow down as well!!

    Enjoy the rest of your summer. That sunset photo is awesome and I hope your lake stay is/was as well.

    1. Thanks! Yes, the fuel bill should be much cheaper. August should be really cheap – as we are going to spend all of it in Georgia.

      Yikes! Over $5 a gallon in Peru! I find slowing down is always a good thing.

      The lake stay was great!

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