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Family

My family of 5 traveled the U.S. for nearly a year, and it cost us less than staying home

It's amazing what a little creativity and willingness to step outside the box can do.

family of five on a boat
Photo courtesy of Annie Reneau

We made countless memories during our slow travel year.

Whenever people share money-saving life hacks like living on a cruise ship or exploring the country via the #vanlife, I see comments like, "That might work for a single person or a couple, but what if you have kids?"

When our kids were 12, 8 and 4, we packed up all of our earthly belongings and spent a year living around the U.S. And no, we didn't live in a van or RV. (Nothing wrong with that life, it just wasn't for us.) We traveled from coast to coast, seeing and experiencing the vast array of gorgeous landscapes and fascinating sites America has to offer, and the best part is we did it for less than what we would have spent staying home.

Was it easy to plan and execute? Not exactly. But was it worth it? Absolutely, hands down, 100%.

Here's how we did it and what we learned.



How the 'nomadic life' idea came about

We were renting a beautiful house in the Chicago suburbs when the owner decided she wanted to sell it. We couldn't afford to buy it, so we had no choice but to move. My husband and I both worked from home and homeschooled our kids (pre-pandemic—that scenario is much more common now), so we were really free to live anywhere.

A friend of mine had been telling me about an extremely affordable house they'd rented in the Outer Banks in the fall while waiting for their permanent home to get finished. I had no idea tourist hot spots were so cheap off-peak, but once I started looking into it, I was gobsmacked.

Seriously, in major tourist areas like Cape Cod and Myrtle Beach, houses rent for upwards of 90% less than their peak summer prices from fall through spring. Owners don't want their homes to sit empty and are willing to rent them for dirt cheap.

As I started researching more, I found that the nightly cost of most vacation rentals is a lot cheaper when you rent for an entire month (though not as cheap as those East Coast off-season rentals). And since vacation rentals generally include utilities, they are even cheaper when comparing them to regular housing costs.

So I posed the question: What if we moved out of our house and just…didn't move into another house? What if, instead of paying rent or a mortgage, we put our stuff into storage, packed what we wanted to have with us in our car and rented vacation rentals a month or so at a time? We could work and school from anywhere. But could we really make that work?

I started sketching out scenarios and crunching numbers.

kids in car

Our kids got used to monthly long car rides. They were not always this happy about it.

Photo by Annie Reneau

How we worked it out financially

We were paying $1,800/month for rent for our house in the burbs, plus $200 to $300 dollars in utilities. That was the top of what we could afford, so we needed to keep monthly housing costs below that.

A storage unit for all of our furniture and belongings was just under $200/month. We figured that was a little less than what we paid monthly in utilities, so we'd just consider the storage unit cost as our utilities equivalent. That meant we needed to keep our vacation rental rent at $1,800/mo or below to keep our same cost of living.

What about gasoline costs, though? Driving around the country means a lot of gas money. And what about hotels and food?

Since we wouldn't be living in one spot, we'd put a pause on the kids' lessons and activities we normally would pay for (violin lessons, gymnastics, etc.). I figured what we saved in kids' activities would certainly cover gas costs, especially if we were only making a long drive around once a month. (We also figured that what the kids learned from a year of travel would be just as valuable as whatever they'd be missing in regular activities, so weren't worried about the disruption.)

girl with lorikeet, dolphin jumping

Our future zoologist got plenty of animal encounters both in zoos and in the wild during our travels.

Photos by Annie Reneau

For overnight stops along the way, we'd try to plan routes that had people we knew and could stay a night with. Otherwise, we'd use Priceline for hotels. (If I were to do it again, I would use the points/miles travel hacking hobby I started last year for free hotel stays, but Priceline got us some good deals.)

We'd be living in fully-equipped homes, so we'd just cook like we normally do. We had a museum pass as homeschoolers that got us into all kinds of places around the country for free, and we're really good at finding free or cheap things to do anyway. So as long as we kept the monthly rent at or below $1,800 on average for the year, we'd basically come out even money-wise.

map with route highlighted

We kept an old-school road atlas in the car and highlighted our route as we drove.

Photo by Annie Reneau

How we planned where to go and what each place cost

We had a few "anchors" to guide our route as we planned. We had to leave when our lease was up at the end of April. We wanted to visit friends and family in California, we had a week-long family camp in Washington State in July, my husband had to be back in Chicago in August for a work thing, and we wanted to spend a chunk of the off-season on the East Coast. We worked backward from there.

We looked at rentals through Airbnb and VRBO and quickly found that everywhere is expensive in the summer. However, May is off-peak in Southern California (despite the gorgeous weather), and June is off-peak on the Oregon Coast (because of late school schedules and hit-or-miss weather), so we decided to start in California and make our way up the coast.

For May, we got a 2-bedroom condo right across the street from a beach in Dana Point, California, for $2,400.

For June, we rented a 3-bedroom house a block from the beach in Pacific Beach, Oregon, for $1,800.

mount rainier

View of Mt. Rainier from Crystal Mountain

Photo by Annie Reneau

By far, the most expensive place we stayed the whole trip was a not-terribly-impressive 2-bedroom condo in Seattle for three weeks in July (after our family camp) for $2,700. (Pretty much everywhere in the nation is ridiculously pricey in July. No getting around it.) So we were over our monthly budget to start off with, but that was okay because we knew we'd make it up the rest of the year.

In August, we stayed with my husband's parents in Chicago, so we had one essentially rent-free month.

September took us to a large 4-bedroom home in a quaint little Lake Michigan beach town—South Haven, Michigan—which had the softest sand I've ever felt. Our rent there was $1,300.

cape cod house in the snow

Our son playing in the snow outside our temporary Cape Cod home.

Photo by Annie Reneau

October through January we stayed in Barnstable, Massachusetts—a beautiful Cape Cod town—in what was our best deal of the whole trip—a stunningly idyllic 2,000 sq ft, 4-bedroom, 2-bath home for $1,500 a month. (Again, utilities included.) This house rented for $3,500 a week during the summer. Seriously, the off-season on the East Coast is bonkers.

February took us to Orlando, Florida, where we stayed in a 3-bedroom condo minutes from the big theme parks for $1,200 for the month.

We used some actual vacation time and money we'd stashed away selling off items before putting our stuff into storage and lived it up at Disney World and Universal Orlando during this month. Because our housing was covered and we had our own car and we could bring our own food, all we had to pay for were the park tickets. And because we weren't on a time crunch we could take advantage of far more days at the parks. (Park tickets get cheaper each day you add on, and become ridiculously cheap per person per day once you get past four or five days.) February is a perfect time to go to the parks if you wants pleasant temps and no crowds.

kids smiling

Kids watching Disney World fireworks. Disney magic is real.

Photo by Annie Reneau

By March we were tired. We had decided before Florida to take a break from traveling and spend time my husband's sister's family who were visiting Chicago from overseas in March. That turned out to be a wise decision, as a family emergency arose the week we got back that necessitated us staying in Chicago for a few months. So we officially ended our nomadic travels two months shy of a year.

So how did we fare financially? Adding up all the rent we paid and dividing it by 10 months came to $1,540/month, well under budget. Even if we don't count the month we stayed at my husband's parents for free, we still came in under budget at just over $1,700/month.

car packed for a trip

Our Honda Pilot packed with everything we took with us around the country.

Photo by Annie Reneau

What kinda sucked about our nomadic life

I'd say 95% of our nomadic experience was positive, and it actually went far more smoothly than I thought it might. But there were some downsides, of course.

For one, having to pack and unpack the car every month got a bit old. We each had our own bin of clothing and personal belongings, and we had a school bin and a kitchen bin. It worked well, but it was still a lot to manage.

The kids missed having their friends around, of course, and so did we. We managed to meet people almost everywhere we went, but it's not the same as being with your own community of people. We missed having a home and a sense of steadiness. It was fabulous for a while, but not something we wanted to experience forever.

And as the person who did all the research and planning for our Big, Slow Trip Around the Country, there were times I wanted to pull my hair out trying to get it all timed out just right. I'm still not quite sure how I did it, to be honest, but it all worked out beautifully. I do know it took a lot of time and effort.

Totally worth it, though.

girl on beach at sunset

Sunset beachcombing at low tide on Cape Cod

Photo by Annie Reneau

What was awesome about the nomadic life

First of all, the forced paring down of our belongings before putting stuff in storage was wonderful. We all have too much stuff, and having to decide what was worth paying to store was a useful exercise in and of itself.

As far as nomad life itself goes, the affordability of living/traveling in this way blew my mind. I would never have guessed we could slow travel for the same or less than the cost of staying home.

The kids had experiences we never would have been able to give them if we had tried to go all of these places just on vacations. We not only saw dozens of sunsets at the beach, but we saw firsthand the way the tides change throughout the month. We got to hike through incredible scenery at our own leisure, not trying to cram in as much as we could into a short vacation. We lived in small towns and big cities, enjoyed palm trees and pine trees and learned about all manner of wildlife.

And the learning! We studied colonial America and visited all the historical sites of the Revolutionary War during our stay in Massachusetts—a fascinating treat for my husband and I who were both born and raised on the West Coast. We stood on the North Bridge where "the shot heard round the world" was fired, which is the same bridge Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott would take boat rides under, which is within eyeshot of Ralph Waldo Emerson's family home, which Nathaniel Hawthorne also live in for a while. History hits differently when you can see where it actually happened.

two kids on the oregon coast

Oregon Coast beaches are like glass.

Photo by Annie Reneau

We formed lifelong memories together as a family and met interesting people everywhere we went. While watching dolphins play in the surf at Dana Point, I connected with a mother who had lost her son in a surfing accident. On Cape Cod, I met a fellow homeschool mom whose husband worked as the caretaker for a very famous family's private island, and we got to go spend a day there. We also got to stay the night with friends around the country while we made our way from one place to another, and friends and family came to visit us in almost every place we stayed as well, so we didn't get too lonely.

It was also a surprisingly simple life, despite the complexities of planning it. We had what we could fit in our car and that was it. We didn't have to worry about yard work or home maintenance or decorating or anything like that. We got to live in homes that had everything ready for us, so other than just basic laundry and cleaning up after ourselves, there wasn't anything else to think about. We could just enjoy where we were while we were there.

But perhaps most importantly, we proved to ourselves and our kids that it's okay to step outside of the norm, that life doesn't have to look a certain way, and that with a little creativity, you can live a unique and extraordinary life if you want to, even if it's just for a while.

Image from Pixabay.

Under the sea...

True
The Wilderness Society


You're probably familiar with the literary classic "Moby-Dick."

But in case you're not, here's the gist: Moby Dick is the name of a huge albino sperm whale.

(Get your mind outta the gutter.)


There's this dude named Captain Ahab who really really hates the whale, and he goes absolutely bonkers in his quest to hunt and kill it, and then everything is awful and we all die unsatisfied with our shared sad existence and — oops, spoilers!


OK, technically, the narrator Ishmael survives. So it's actually a happy ending (kind of)!

whales, Moby Dick, poaching endangered species

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Basically, it's a famous book about revenge and obsession that was published back in 1851, and it's really, really long.

It's chock-full of beautiful passages and dense symbolism and deep thematic resonance and all those good things that earned it a top spot in the musty canon of important literature.

There's also a lot of mundane descriptions about the whaling trade as well (like, a lot). That's because it came out back when commercial whaling was still a thing we did.

conservation, ocean water conservation

A non-albino mother and baby sperm whale.

Photo by Gabriel Barathieu/Wikipedia.

In fact, humans used to hunt more than 50,000 whales each year to use for oil, meat, baleen, and oil. (Yes, I wrote oil twice.) Then, in 1946, the International Whaling Commission stepped in and said "Hey, wait a minute, guys. There's only a few handful of these majestic creatures left in the entire world, so maybe we should try to not kill them anymore?"

And even then, commercial whaling was still legal in some parts of the world until as recently as 1986.

International Whaling Commission, harpoons

Tail in the water.

Whale's tail pale ale GIF via GoPro/YouTube

And yet by some miracle, there are whales who were born before "Moby-Dick" was published that are still alive today.

What are the odds of that? Honestly it's hard to calculate since we can't exactly swim up to a bowhead and say, "Hey, how old are you?" and expect a response. (Also that's a rude question — jeez.)

Thanks to some thoughtful collaboration between researchers and traditional Inupiat whalers (who are still allowed to hunt for survival), scientists have used amino acids in the eyes of whales and harpoon fragments lodged in their carcasses to determine the age of these enormous animals — and they found at least three bowhead whales who were living prior to 1850.

Granted those are bowheads, not sperm whales like the fictional Moby Dick, (and none of them are albino, I think), but still. Pretty amazing, huh?

whale blubber, blue whales, extinction

This bowhead is presumably in adolescence, given its apparent underwater moping.

GIF via National Geographic.

This is a particularly remarkable feat considering that the entire species was dwindling near extinction.

Barring these few centenarian leviathans, most of the whales still kickin' it today are between 20 and 70 years old. That's because most whale populations were reduced to 10% or less of their numbers between the 18th and 20th centuries, thanks to a few over-eager hunters (and by a few, I mean all of them).

Today, sperm whales are considered one of the most populous species of massive marine mammals; bowheads, on the other hand, are still in trouble, despite a 20% increase in population since the mid-1980s. Makes those few elderly bowheads that much more impressive, huh?

population, Arctic, Great Australian Blight

Southern Right Whales hangin' with a paddleboarder in the Great Australian Bight.

GIF via Jaimen Hudson.

Unfortunately, just as things are looking up, these wonderful whales are in trouble once again.

We might not need to worry our real-life Captain Ahabs anymore, but our big aquatic buddies are still being threatened by industrialization — namely, from oil drilling in the Arctic and the Great Australian Bight.

In the off-chance that companies like Shell and BP manage not to spill millions of gallons of harmful crude oil into the water, the act of drilling alone is likely to maim or kill millions of animals, and the supposedly-safer sonic blasting will blow out their eardrums or worse.

This influx of industrialization also affects their migratory patterns — threatening not only the humans who depend on them, but also the entire marine ecosystem.

And I mean, c'mon — who would want to hurt this adorable face?

social responsibility, nature, extinction

BOOP.

Image from Pixabay.

Whales might be large and long-living. But they still need our help to survive.

If you want another whale to make it to his two-hundred-and-eleventy-first birthday (which you should because I hear they throw great parties), then sign this petition to protect the waters from Big Oil and other industrial threats.

I guarantee Moby Dick will appreciate it.


This article originally appeared on 11.04.15

Identity

Do you have a 'gay voice'? Here's how to tell.

Have you ever wondered if you have a “gay voice”?

Photo pulled from YouTube trailer "Do I sound gay?"

For anyone who's wondering if they have a gay voice and what that actually means.

This article originally appeared on June 5, 2015


Have you ever wondered if you have a “gay voice”?

If you're anything like me, the answer is yes. Many times.

For anyone who’s laid awake wondering if your voice is just as gay as you are, I've created a rigorous test for you to finally get some answers. Follow the chart below to see if you, in fact, sound like a homosexual. ***(Image needs to pulled from Robbie Couch who wrote the article.)


Temporary pic pulled as a place holder

Temporary pic pulled as a place holder******

Yes, that's correct: You do not have a "gay voice" — because a "gay voice" is not really a thing.

Unlike humans, voices do not identify as certain genders or sexual orientations. They're just ... sounds. (Crazy, I know!)

Stereotypes about what LGBTQ people sound like lead some to think their gay-dar can accurately sniff out queer folks in a crowd based on voices alone. However, research shows we actually do a pretty poor job at guessing another person's sexual orientation solely using our ears.

Even if we do wear our queerness on the tips of our tongues, though, why should it matter?

Some LGBTQ people fret over their voice, fearful their queerness is on display every time they speak. And that concern is understandable. Sometimes, it's not a matter of accepting yourself, but a matter of survival: When your voice outs you as an "other" in an environment that's hostile toward gay, transgender, or otherwise queer people, personal safety becomes a priority.

“A lot of gay men are self-conscious about sounding gay because we were persecuted for that when we were young," LGBTQ activist and media personality Dan Savage said in the 2014 documentary "Do I Sound Gay?"

CNN's Don Lemon, who is openly gay, also chimed in on the topic. Has he ever felt insecure about "sounding gay"? “I’d have to say, if I told you ‘no,’ I’d be lying," Lemon admitted in the documentary.

But we should never let a bully's bigotry convince us our voices should be silenced. You sound perfect the way you are, honey — and don't you forget it.

Checking out the documentary "Do I Sound Gay?", available on multiple streaming platforms. Here's a look at the trailer:

This article was written by Robbie Couch and originally appeared on 11.5.15

Joy

Pet cockatiel is obsessed with singing 'September' by Earth, Wind and Fire

Kiki remembers the 21st night of September ALL. THE. TIME. and it's actually quite impressive.

Representative hoto by Saqib Iqbal Digital on Unsplash

Apparently, "September" is all the rage with cockatiels.

“Do you remember…the 21st night of September?” has been one of the most iconic song openings of the past 45 years, as the R&B hit by Earth, Wind and Fire perpetually serves as a catchy favorite for dance clubs, movie scenes and TikTok clips alike.

However, "September" has also gained wild popularity among an unlikely group—pet cockatiels.


One cockatiel in particular has taken a shining to the song to the point of obsession, to the combined delight and chagrin of his owner. You see, Kiki doesn’t just like listening to the song, he sings and dances to it. Loudly. Over and over. At uncomfortable hours of the morning.

Kiki’s owner has shared multiple examples of her pet bird reveling in his favorite song, and it’s hilarious every time.

Watch:

@kiki.tiel

Send help plz wheres the off button on parrot #fyp #foryou #bird #cockatiel #parrotsoftiktok #birdsoftiktok

"Kiki…it's 7 o'clock in the morning…" Yeah, Kiki does not care. Kiki is feelin' the groove.

This isn't just a one-off and it's also not just a random song. Here we can see that Kiki recognizes it and sings it when his owner plays it. (Just after pooing on her leg—the reality of having a bird, in case these videos make you want one).

@kiki.tiel

Babywipes handy at all hours 🫡 #bird #cockatiel #fyp #foryou #september #parrot

But Kiki doesn't even need anyone else around in order to sing his favorite song. Here he is singing and dancing all by himself when his owner left the room and left her camera running to see what he would do.

@kiki.tiel

Partying without me :( #cockatielsoftiktok #birds #fyp #for you

As cute and hilarious as this is, it surely gets old after a while, right? It's one thing to watch in a video—it's got to be entirely another to hear it all the time at home.

It's also not just a Kiki quirk. Apparently, "September" is a "thing" among cockatiels. Other cockatiels have been known to love it and sing it, though not quite as well as Kiki does.

Someone on Reddit asked why so many cockatiels love the song—one person even said it was basically the cockatiel national anthem at this point. No one knows exactly why, but this explanation by Reddit user nattiecakes is as good an explanation as any:

"Yeah, cockatiels genuinely like the song in a way they don’t universally take to many other songs. My cockatiel is 17 and early in life basically seemed to max out his harddrive space learning a little bit of La Cucaracha, The Flintstones theme, the phrase 'pretty bird,' and this horrible alarm clock sound that is similar to the hungry baby cockatiel sound. We thought we could not get him to learn anything else because they do have some limits.

Then 'September' came. Every cockatiel loved it. We decided to see if our cockatiel loved it.

I sh*t y’all not, within a DAY he whistled the first three notes, which is really all that matters. He hasn’t been able to learn more, but he loves it.

Now our African grey whistles it to him constantly. He used to reliably whistle La Cucaracha to our cockatiel when our cockatiel would get angry and upset, and our cockatiel would start singing instead and forget he’d been upset. But almost immediately our grey switched to using 'September' 90% of the time. Like, it’s so plain even to our grey that 'September' is the song to unlock a cockatiel’s better nature. I think the grey likes it a lot too, but he has many other songs he likes better.

As for why cockatiels like this song so much… all I can guess is it really resonates with their cheery vibe. I think the inside of a cockatiel’s mind is usually like a disco."

Rock on, Kiki. Just maybe not so early in the morning.

Identity

High school girl’s response to ‘Ugly Girls’ poll inspires positive reaction

This brave high school student stood up to her school’s cyberbullies.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Lynelle Cantwell had a response on her own Facebook page.

Lynelle Cantwell is in 12th grade at Holy Trinity High School in Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador (that's Canada).

On Monday, she found out that she had been featured on another student's anonymous online poll entitled "Ugly Girls in Grade 12," along with several other classmates.


Cantwell responded via Facebook with her own message, which has already been shared more than 2,000 times and counting.

cyber bullying, bullies, kindness

The unkind poll.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Take a look:

bullying, brave response, community support

“Just because we don’t look perfect on the outside does not mean we are ugly.” - Lynelle Cantwell.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

Since posting her brave response on Facebook, more people have come out to show support than people who voted in the first place.

Check out some of the responses:

appreciation, confidence, self esteem, love and support

Some responses to her post.

Lynelle Cantwell/Facebook.

The School District of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced that it will be looking into the incident further. For Cantwell, the positive outpouring of love and support vastly outweighs the initial cyberbullying and is raising her confidence in new ways.


This article originally appeared on 08.20.17

Health

Artists got fed up with these 'anti-homeless spikes.' So they made them a bit more ... comfy.

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

Photo courtesy of CC BY-ND, Immo Klink and Marco Godoy

Spikes line the concrete to prevent sleeping.


These are called "anti-homeless spikes." They're about as friendly as they sound.

As you may have guessed, they're intended to deter people who are homeless from sitting or sleeping on that concrete step. And yeah, they're pretty awful.

The spikes are a prime example of how cities design spaces to keep homeless people away.


Not all concrete steps have spikes on them, but outdoor seating in cities like Montreal and Tokyo have been sneakily designed to prevent people from resting too comfortably for too long.

This guy sawing through a bench was part of a 2006 protest in Toulouse, France, where public seating intentionally included armrests to prevent people from lying down.

Of course, these designs do nothing to fight the cause or problem of homelessness. They're just a way of saying to homeless people, "Go somewhere else. We don't want to look at you,"basically.

One particular set of spikes was outside a former night club in London. And a local group got sick of staring at them.

Leah Borromeo is part of the art collective "Space, Not Spikes" — a group that's fed up with what she describes as "hostile architecture."

"Spikes do nothing more than shoo the realities of poverty and inequality away from your backyard — so you don't have to see it or confront what you can do to make things more equal," Borromeo told Upworthy. "And that is really selfish."

"Our moral compass is skewed if we think things like this are acceptable."

charity, social consciousness, artist

A bed covers up spikes on the concrete.

assets.rebelmouse.io

The move by Space, Not Spikes has caused quite a stir in London and around the world. The simple but impactful idea even garnered support from music artist Ellie Goulding.

"That was amazing, wasn't it?" Borromeo said of Goulding's shout-out on Instagram.

books, philanthropy, capitalism

Artist's puppy books and home comforts.

assets.rebelmouse.io

"[The project has] definitely touched a nerve and I think it is because, as a whole, humans will still look out for each other," Borromeo told Upworthy. "Capitalism and greed conditions us to look out for ourselves and negate the welfare of others, but ultimately, I think we're actually really kind."

"We need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."
anti-homeless laws, legislation, panhandling

A message to offer support in contrast with current anti-homeless laws.

assets.rebelmouse.io

These spikes may be in London, but the U.S. definitely has its fair share of anti-homeless sentiment, too.

Spikes are pretty obvious — they're a visual reminder of a problem many cities are trying to ignore. But what we can't see on the street is the rise of anti-homeless laws that have cropped up from sea to shining sea.

Legislation that targets homeless people — like bans on panhandling and prohibiting people from sleeping in cars — has increased significantly in recent years.

For instance, a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty that analyzed 187 American cities found that there's been a 43% hike in citywide bans on sitting or lying down in certain spaces since 2011.

Thankfully, groups like "Space, Not Spikes" are out there changing hearts and minds. But they need our help.

The group created a video to complement its work and Borromeo's hoping its positive underlying message will motivate people to do better.

"[The world] won't always be happy-clappy because positive social change needs constructive conflict and debate," she explained. "But we need to call out injustice and hypocrisy when we see it."

Check out their video below:

This article originally appeared on 07.24.15