Monday, February 22, 2016

snail mail update // the best new years goal ever

Remember at the beginning of the year when I decided to set a goal to send 100 pieces of mail? Well, that's pretty much the best goal I've ever set EVER in the history of my life. The simple act of sending a letter has literally changed me into a happier person. So far this year I have sent 60 letters to pen pals in the Philippines, Russia, England, Germany, Indonesia, and fifteen different states.

So let's talk about why this new goal has been the best thing ever.

Pen pals are nice. I mean, like, THE NICEST PEOPLE EVER. With every letter I receive I find myself thinking where have you been all my life?

Every letter is a unique work of art. Even if it's just handwriting on paper, I find them so beautiful, and I love tracing my fingers over the imprint of the pens and feeling close to people who are so far away.

Washi tape is bae. I never knew what I was missing before washi tape was in my life.

Mail days are the best. I have a PO Box, so I usually don't get my mail every day. When I finally make it to the post office and open my box, it's so so SO rewarding to open it up and see a colorful envelope waiting for me. Or, even better, more than one!

Stamps are kinda cool. I never thought twice about stamps before setting this goal. I rarely bought them. (I didn't even know that you needed different postage for overseas letters, or that you can buy stamps that cost less specifically for postcards! I feel much wiser in the ways of postage now.) I am also kinda REALLY excited to see if new designs have come in. It's not a super big deal, but I do like using the different designs to add to the aesthetic of the envelope!

Stationary is fun to buy. I worked at a Hallmark store for a whole three years back in the day, so I am no stranger to pretty cards and stationary. And while Hallmark boasts some cool cards that are also made in the USA (woot!), I have been having a lot of fun adding to my collection with artists prints I find locally and online.

A while back I received a pretty letter from my pen pal, Laura, and she said she had found her lovely stationary at a thrift store! Um, why didn't I think of this before? So then next time I was at my local thrift shop I scored some really awesome vintage cards - they were dirt cheap (like ten cents), and there was a ton of variety to choose from! (Thanks for the tip!)

Sending a letter costs, like, nothing. Ok, it costs as much as a stamp or two. And a few cents for the paper. And the stickers on the envelope. Almost nothing.

Letters make people happy. Getting a letter in the mail can actually make my day. People are sweet and thoughtful, and it touches my heart how people I've never met before have already become dear friends. When I get a letter and open it right away before work, I'll spend the whole day thinking of what I'm going to send back. Sometimes I'll get the mail and wait to open the letters until the evening so I have something to look forward to after a long day. Either way, my day is most definitely improved.

Those are just a few of the reasons why this goal has been the best ever. There are more, and I'm sure I'll touch on them in the future. For now, maybe you are inspired to write a letter to someone you know and love...or someone you don't know yet! If you are looking to get in on the fun I'm having, here's a link to my address. Let's be friends!

Monday, February 15, 2016

now you sea me

Let's go for a dip, eh?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

van life // frequently asked questions

Since I purchased my van back in 2013, I've gotten a lot of questions regarding my road trips, life on the road, and other general van questions. This post will hopefully serve to answer most of the frequently asked questions, and perhaps fuel your desire to hit the road (van or no van)! (Follow this link for a completely separate post regarding my road trip tips and tricks,)
When did you purchase your van?
I bought my van on July 15, 2013.

What kind of van is it?
She's a '91 Chevy Van 20.

How much was it?
I paid $1,500 for the van itself, and probably around $200 to transfer the title, register it in my name, and acquire new license plates.

How many miles were on it when you purchased it?
About 102,500.

Did you have to fix any problems with it?
No, not initially. Before I officially purchased it, I asked the seller if he would be ok with my mechanic giving the van a once over. The seller agreed (as most will, unless they're trying to get away with something), and my mechanic gave her a pretty good bill of health. He recommended I bring it back later in the year for another checkup, which I did. I drove this van over five thousand miles before having any major work done on her. I didn't have work done because something was broken, it was more of a preemptive tune up that included new tires, new brakes, and new exhaust. (All in all, around $1,000 worth of maintenance two and a half years after I bought her.) I depend on this ol' girl to get me from state to state, so I make sure and take care of her. Making sure she's "healthy" before a big trip usually means (*vigorously knocks on wood*) smooth sailing on the journey. A breakdown on the road would mean lots of money lost on repairs, and, since I sleep in her while on the road, money lost on lodging while she's getting fixed. (Obviously sometimes breakdowns occur even when you have done everything you can to take care. Make sure to have backup funds and a plan B for when things don't go your way.)

Right after the big purchase!  ~ July 2013.

Waiting for my new plates to come.
What kind of gas mileage does your van get?
We usually get about twelve to fourteen miles per gallon, but if we're doing a lot of highway driving it goes up to fifteen!

Do you sleep in the van every night?
I try to, yes. There were a few times when it was just was too cold and I decided to spend a night in a hotel. It wasn't the end of the world - the hotels were around $50 per night, and it was really nice to be able to fully recharge, relax, soak in a hot bath, and get reorganized after a few weeks straight on the road. To me, the whole point of traveling in the van is to be able to comfortably live in it for periods on end. I definitely wouldn't be paying for a hotel every night on top of that pretty terrible gas mileage.

But do you really come out ahead? How much money do you really save by sleeping in the van?

For example, let's say I take a four thousand mile trip over a three week period. If gas is at $2 per gallon, that means I'd spend roughly $540 on gas over the course of the trip, and $0 on lodging. Approximate total spent on gas and lodging: $540.

The average gas mileage for a car today is about 23.6 mpg. So, taking that same trip in your average car would cost you about $340 gas wise. The average cost of lodging in the USA is about $120 per night for a couple, however, I'm going to use a rate of $50 per night (the lowest I've seen in my travels) for this purpose. That's $1,050 for lodging over a three week period! (And that's assuming you're going to be able to find that low price on all your nights, sometimes the lowest I could find was around $70.) Approximate total spent on gas and lodging: $1,390.

So by my calculations, that's a possible savings of around $850 for that hypothetical three week, four thousand mile trip.

Of course, everything is relative. One needs to take into account current gas prices, gas mileage of your exact vehicle, how long your trip is going to be, ect. Maybe you'll be camping out of a car? That would definitely affect the price, too. It all comes down to your comfort level, and the amount you're willing and able to spend.

Where in the van do you sleep?
There is a bench in the back that converts to a bed, and that's where I sleep. I was surprised at how comfortable it was!

Where do you park the van to sleep at night?
I have parked on city streets, parking lots of department stores, 24 hour pharmacies, park n' rides, national parks, and beaches. I always make sure it's free and within walking distance of a bathroom area (indoors or out).

Where do you shower?
Showers are few and far between on the road, and I'm ok with that. Van life is not for people who feel like they need to shower every day, I'm just going to put that out there. When I travel the coasts, I use the showers provided near most beaches for a quick wash. I also am a YMCA member, and if I'm desperately seeking a shower I can usually find a nearby Y pretty quickly. Since I'm a member I get in for free, but if you're not most will offer you a guest pass for around $5-$10 (and then you can use all their other amenities, too!). 

Other places you may be able to snag a shower are a gym or a nearby campsite. And there's always dry shampoo, and washing the worst parts in a restroom. It's not pretty, but it'll work. Also, I have seen portable showers (like a bag with holes you fill with water), but I can't vouch for their effectiveness or usefulness as I've never tried one. Lastly, let's not forget that you can always wash off in rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and even the ocean (just please use environmentally friendly soap!).

What do you eat on the road?
I am a pretty healthy eater in general, and I try to maintain that on road trips. Before I leave I make a big batch of trail mix to snack on while driving. I also bring along a stash of granola bar type things that I get from my local health food store (but I could probably make them at home for a fraction of the cost if I really wanted to). Also, one of my favorite things to bring is baby food in those little squeezable pouches! They are packed with fruits and veggies, and they won't spoil. Bringing snacks helps me cut down on impulse junk food buys at gas stations, and fast food restaurants.

I like to hit grocery stores instead of restaurants while travelling because it's a lot cheaper, and usually healthier. My favorite grocery store buy is the salad kits that come in a bag. I also buy a day or two's worth of fresh fruit and veggies whenever I'm at a grocery. I always like to buy a fruit and veggie smoothie, too (they are usually located in the produce department).

I prefer things that don't need to be refrigerated or stored, so I usually buy things I'm going to eat right away. I like to not even bring a cooler (for space's sake, and they always seem to leak), but sometimes it's nice to have a place to cool beverages, so sometimes I do bring a small one. Personally, I don't like to cook on the road, but that's just my preference. I don't mind eating cold beans from a can to avoid lugging cooking equipment around. I usually have one crate in the back that's used to store snacks, a few cans of food (usually beans), my jug of water, and any other random food, like boxes of crackers or cereal.

Of course, I do eat out at restaurants and such (and occasionally go through a drive through, give me all of the fries). However, I like to make sure that when I do it's part of the cultural experience. I like to try things whatever place I'm in is known for. I avoid tourist traps at all costs because in my experience I find the local's favorite has tastier food for a better price.

What do you do all the time on your trips?
When I'm on the road I want to spend as much time outside as possible. National parks and beaches are my favorite. Another thing I love to do is explore different cemeteries! They're so beautiful and interesting, and most of them boast many photo-taking opportunities (like this one in New Orleans, or this one in Savannah). Simply being in a place I've never been before is really novel for me. I like exploring different cities. Each one is so unique!

When the weather is nasty (hello, polar vortex road trip of 2014!)  my favorite thing to do is to peruse a museum. It's also nice to just relax at a local library or cafes! I like to use this time to catch up on journaling, blogging (yay free wi-fi!), uploading photos to my laptop, researching upcoming destinations, and writing postcards. 

Right across the street from Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Perhaps my top road trip memory was waking up to a technicolor sunrise right on this beach.

What do you do with your van when you're not travelling?
When I'm not travelling my van mostly stays parked in the driveway. I don't use her for every day back and forth, I just use my car. I do try and get at least two or three short drives in per month, just to make sure everything sounds and feels ok. Sometimes I use her for overnight trips to a local beach, to transport boxes when I'm moving, or for drive-in movies (perfect vehicle for the drive-in, and the comfiest seats!).

How much does it cost to live on the road?
Ultimately, it just depends on where you are going, how many people are with you, how much gas you use, where you stay, and what activities you plan to undertake. Fortunately, all of these things are relatively easy to calculate before you leave. I always spend lots of time planning trips, so I know approximately how much everything is going to cost. 

How do you afford to take so many long trips?
I make travelling a priority. I've never regretted any trip I've taken, and every new place I experience leaves an impression on me that is quite priceless. I love travelling more than I've ever loved any one thing, so it's hard for me to justify spending money on anything else.

I work hard. In high tourist season I work two bartending jobs, one right after the other, most days of the week. In the winter, on the days I'm not bartending, I edit the photos I've taken the rest of the year and post them to my online shop. I also knit scarves, hats, and other little things that are carried in several local shops and boutiques.

I save like crazy. On the road, and off, I avoid little frivolous purchases, and I am extremely thrifty. 

Left // New Orleans, Louisiana. Right // About to hit the drive-in theater in my home town.

Parked near one of New Orlean's famous cemeteries.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

Somewhere on the south eastern coast.
Well, are you all fired up to take a road trip now? I am! I sincerely hope my questions have helped you out. I do also recommend checking out my road trip tip post, as I said before. It has lots of other helpful road trip info! If you have further questions, you can ask in the comments below or tweet at me (@Fab_Factor), and I'll get back to you right away! Happy trails!

Monday, February 1, 2016

falling in love with winter all over again

With every passing year it seems that I grow more and more uncomfortable with the cold weather. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that I finally understand all the snow birds that flit on south every time the temperatures drop and the nights stretch on forever. The cold weather always seems to make me feel helpless and trapped, no matter how bundled up I get. 

BUT. Then I went outside last night and caught snowflakes on my tongue. I came inside and the snowflakes that had fallen on me looked like diamonds as they melted into perfect tiny water droplets. When I woke up the next day and looked out of my window I immediately remembered why I want to live here forever. 
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