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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.

A young mom with her kids in the ER.

Sage Pasch’s unique family situation has attracted a lot of attention recently. The 20-something mother of 2 shared a 6-second TikTok video on September 29 that has been viewed over 33 million times because it shows how hard it can be for young moms to be taken seriously.

In the video, the young-looking Pasch took her son Nick to the ER after he injured his leg at school. But when the family got to the hospital, the doctor couldn’t believe Pasch was his mother. “POV, we’re at the ER, and the doctor didn’t believe I was the parent,” she captioned the post.


Pasch and her fiancé , Luke Faircloth, adopted the teen in 2022 after his parents tragically died two years apart. “Nick was already spending so much time with us, so it made sense that we would continue raising him,” Pasch told Today.com.

The couple also has a 17-month-old daughter named Lilith.

@coffee4lifesage

He really thought i was lying😭

Pasch says that people are often taken aback by her family when they are out in public. "Everybody gets a little confused because my fiancé and I are definitely younger to have a teenager," she said. "It can be very frustrating."

It may be hard for the young parents to be taken seriously, but their story has made a lot of people in a similar situation feel seen. "Omg, I feel this. I took my son to the ER, and they asked for the guardian. Yes, hi, that's me," Brittany wrote in the comments. "Meee with my teenager at a parent-teacher conference. They think I’m her older sister and say we need to talk with your parents," KatMonroy added.


This article originally appeared on 10.24.23

Photo by Tod Perry

A recreation of the note left on Brooke Lacey's car.

If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255) or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line: 741741.


There’s an old Hebrew saying that if you “save one life, you save the world entire.” Who knows if Brooke Lacey, 22, had that lofty goal when she began a campaign in 2020 to help uplift people’s spirits during the first COVID-19 wave.

But her kind efforts may have done just that.

Lacey has struggled with mental health issues throughout her life and she knew that people like her were going to have a really hard time during COVID-19 lockdowns. A study from May 2021 found that the New Zealand population had “higher depression and anxiety compared with population norms.” The study also found that “younger people” and “those most at risk of COVID-19 reported poorer mental health.”



To help those who may be struggling, Lacey printed 600 stickers with an uplifting message and posted them around places where people may take their lives, including trains, bridges and large bodies of water in Wellington, New Zealand. She also made a bumper sticker with the same message for her car.

The stickers spoke directly to those who may be contemplating taking their own life. “Please don’t take your life today,” the stickers read. “The world is so much better with you in it. More than you realize, stay.”

Earlier this month, Lacey parked her car in her university’s lot and when she returned to her vehicle to leave, she noticed a note was affixed to the windshield. Thinking it was someone complaining about how she parked or a ticket, she prepared for the worst but wound up being blindsided by the positive message.

“I left my house with a plan and asked for a sign, any sign, I was doing the right thing when I saw your car in the parking lot. Thank you,” the note read. At first, Lacey wasn’t sure what the person was referring to, then she remembered her homemade bumper sticker.

“I had these made so long ago, put one on my car and forgot about them, until now,” she tweeted on her since deactivated account. “I am so glad whoever you are chose to stay today. You never know who needs this reminder.”

Now, it’s unclear exactly what the person’s “plan” was, but there's no doubt that Lacey’s bumper sticker inspired them to choose life. Let’s hope that the sticker also inspired them to seek professional help for whatever difficulties they are going through.

Whether it was intentional or not, Lacey’s sticker was effective because it followed one of the most important strategies that people use at suicide hotlines. According to Science.org, it’s of utmost importance that people contemplating suicide are handled with “respect and empathy.”

Lacey's story is a beautiful reminder of the power that one simple, thoughtful gesture can have on another person’s life. Every day, there are people all around us who are looking for a sign to give them a reason keep going. Whether it’s a hug, a smile or the right message in the right place at the right time, we should all be like Lacey and make sure everyone knows that the world is better with them in it. In fact, much more than they ever realize.


This article originally appeared on 02.24.22

Education

Someone criticized a middle school teacher's behavior. Her comeback was an A+.

When a person commented, "your a teacher act like it," Amy Allen hilariously took the advice to heart.

A rude commenter got a lesson from Ms. Allen.

Being a teacher isn't easy. Teaching middle school students is especially not easy. Teaching middle school students who spent several of their formative years going through a global pandemic in the age of smartphones, social media and a youth mental health crisis is downright heroic.

If you haven't spent time in a middle school classroom, you may not fully grasp the intensity of it on every level, from the awkwardness to the body odor to the delightful hilarity that tweens bring to the table. When you connect with your students, it can be incredibly rewarding, and when you don't…well, we all read "Lord of the Flies," right?

Skilled teachers bring out the best in young people, and that can be done in many different ways. For Amy Allen, it's by making her middle school classroom a fun, welcoming place to learn and by bonding with her students.


"I love teaching middle schoolers because they are awkward, and I’m awkward, so we get along," Allen tells Upworthy.

She plays games with students, gets rambunctious with them and creates opportunities for them to expend some of that intense pre-and-early-teen energy in healthy ways. For instance, she shared a video of a game of "grudgeball," an active trivia game that makes reviewing for a quiz or test fun and competitive, and you can see how high-energy her classroom is:

@_queenoftheclassroom

If this looks like fun to you, pick up my grudgeball template (🔗 in bio) #qotc #grudgeball #10outof10recommend @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️

"I think for teachers, we always want to create moments for our students that are beyond the standard reading, writing, memorizing, quiz, 'traditional learning,'" Allen says. "Games are a great way to incorporate fun in the classroom."

Allen clearly enjoyed the game as much as her students—"I love the chaos!" she says— and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Fun keeps teachers sane, too. But one person took issue with her classroom behavior and commented, "your a teacher act like it." (Not my typo—that's exactly what the person wrote, only with no period.)

Allen addressed the comment in another video in the most perfect way possible—by acting exactly like a teacher.

Watch:

@_queenoftheclassroom

Replying to @كل الكلبات تريد مني Come see me if you have any further questions. #qotc #iteachmiddleschool #weDEFINITELYdonthavefuninhere @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ @Amy Allen ☀️ #Inverted

There are two solid ways to handle a rude comment without making things worse—you can ignore it or you can craft a response that makes the person look like a fool without being cruel or rude yourself. Allen's grammar lesson response was A+ work, right down to the "Come see me if you have any further questions" caption.

In fact, the person apparently went back and deleted their comment after the comeback video went viral, which makes it all the more hilarious. The video currently has more than 4 million views on TikTok and over 18 million views on YouTube.

"What’s funny is I left my correction on the board accidentally, and the next day, students asked me what that was all about," Allen says. "When I explained it, they thought it was cool because 'why would anyone go after Ms. Allen'? At that point, the video had maybe 10,000 views. I never imagined the video would go viral."

Two days later, as the video was creeping toward a million views, she upped the stakes. "Some of my students are my ultimate hype people, and they were tracking it harder than I was," she says. "I made a 'deal' with my fifth period if it reached 1 million during their class, they could sit wherever they wanted the entire week. During lunch, I checked, and it reached 1 million. So when they came back from recess, I announced it, and it was like I was a rockstar. They screamed and cheered for me. It was an incredible moment for me."

The irony, of course, is that Allen was acting like a teacher in her grudgeball video—an engaged teacher with engaged students who are actively participating in the learning process. Just because it doesn't look like serious study doesn't mean it's not learning, and for some kids, this kind of activity might be far more effective at helping them remember things they've learned (in this case, vocabulary words) than less energetic ways of reviewing.

Allen has her thumb on the pulse of her students and goes out of her way to meet them where they are. Last year, for instance, she created a "mental health day" for her students. "I could tell they were getting burnt out from all the state tests, regular homework, and personal life extracurricular activities that many of my students participate in," she says. "We went to my school library for 'fireside reading,' solved a murder mystery, built blanket forts, watched the World Cup, colored, and completed sudokus. Is it part of the curriculum? No. Is it worth spending one class period doing something mentally rewarding for students? Absolutely."

Teaching middle school requires a lot of different skills, but perhaps the most important one is to connect with students, partly because it's far easier to teach someone actually wants to be in your classroom and partly because effective teaching is about so much more than just academics. A teacher might be the most caring, stable, trustworthy adult in some students' lives. What looks like silly fun and games in a classroom can actually help students feel safe and welcomed and valued, knowing that a teacher cares enough to try to make learning as enjoyable as possible. Plus, shared laughter in a classroom helps build a community of engaged learners, which is exactly what a classroom should be.

Keep up the awesome work, Ms. Allen, both in the classroom and in the comment section.

You can follow Amy Allen on TikTok and YouTube.

Pop Culture

Why Gotye gave up $10 million in ad revenue from his 'Somebody That I Used to Know' video

The humble singer-songwriter's story is a cautionary tale of viral fame.

Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" video has 2.2 billion views on YouTube.

For most musicians, creating a hit song and making it big on the international stage would be living the dream. For Gotye, it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.

Gotye is the stage name of Wouter "Wally" De Backer, the singer-songwriter behind the 2011 smash hit song, "Somebody That I Used to Know." The music video for the song becoming one of YouTube's most-liked videos, and with 2.2 billion views, the video could have earned over $10 million in ad revenue.

But De Backer has refused to place ads on it, saying, "I'm not interested in selling my music. That's the reason I don't put ads on my YouTube channel, which seems strange to people in today's climate, but that is a decision you can make. I'm like that with all my music."

It was the fame that came with the virality of the song that was the bigger issue for the artist, however. It's a simple enough thing to turn down money, but there's not much you can do to stop a viral wave.


The song took six months to write and produce, and when the video leaked a week before its official release, it quickly caught fire. At first, De Backer was just excited that his song was being played on the radio. Then the virality online took hold and that was also exciting for a while.

From the start, De Backer was grateful for the song's success, but he also managed to stayed simple and humble. He didn't buy anything large or luxurious with the money he made from song sales, being content to drive his old van. And when he was asked what was the best thing that happened in the previous year, he responded, "It probably wouldn't be anything to do with a marker of success of my song or my album. More something like a really great swim I took at Summer's Beach near where I live."

Soon the covers and parodies of the "Somebody That I Used to Know" grew more widespread and the quality of them began to wane, De Backer began to feel "burnt out" on it all. He had no control over people connecting name with whatever they were hearing done to his song, which was frustrating. He started to feel the pressures that come with fame, to have a certain personality or to follow up his huge hit with another huge hit. And he missed feeling like he had a personal connection with his audience, which becomes difficult at a certain scale.

He even began to feel self-conscious about the popularity of the song due to its theme—two people who had broken up and couldn't work out their differences. The fact that so many people were celebrating it so fiercely was uncomfortable for him; he didn't want to be responsible for spreading more angst or bitterness in the world. And then came the "overplayed" and "annoying" era of oversaturation. He even apologized to people for having to hear the song so often because radios wouldn't stop playing it.

Ultimately, he ceased putting out music as a solo artist and focused on making music with his long-time band, The Basics. There is a possibility for another solo Gotye project sometime in the next decade, but he's probably hoping he doesn't end up with a big hit next time around.

Watch SunnyV2 tell the story of Gotye's "one hit wonder" experience and how it impacted his musical career:

It's a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks they want to be famous or wishes they'd have a song go viral. Parts of that experience can be great, but fame isn't always everything it's cracked up to be.

via Pexels

A woman sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat

Everyone wants to know how long they will live and there are many indicators that can show whether someone is thriving or on the decline. But people have yet to develop a magic formula to determine exactly how long someone should expect to live.

However, a doctor recently featured on the "Today" show says a straightforward test can reveal the likelihood that someone aged 51 to 80 will die in the near future.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar was on the "Today" show on March 8 and demonstrated how to perform the simple “sit to stand test” (aka sit-rising test or SRT) that can help determine the longevity of someone between 51 to 80.


The test is pretty simple. Go from standing to sitting cross-legged, and then go back to standing without using any parts of your body besides your legs and core to help you get up and down. The test measures multiple longevity factors, including heart health, balance, agility, core and leg strength and flexibility.

You begin the test with a score of 10 and subtract points on your way up and down for doing the following:

Hand used for support: -1 point

Knee used for support: -1 point

Forearm used for support: -1 point

One hand on knee or thigh: -1 point

Side of leg used for support: -1 point

A 2012 study published by the European Society of Cardiology found a correlation between the SRT score and how long people live. The study was conducted on 2002 people, 68% of whom were men, who performed the SRT test and were followed by researchers in the coming years. The study found that “Musculoskeletal fitness, as assessed by SRT, was a significant predictor of mortality in 51–80-year-old subjects.”

Those who scored in the lowest range, 0 to 3, had up to a 6 times greater chance of dying than those in the highest scores (8 to 10). About 40% of those in the 0 to 3 range died within 11 years of the study.

Azar distilled the study on "Today," saying: "The study found that the lower the score, you were seven times more likely to die in the next six years.”

"Eight points or higher is what you want," Azar said. "As we get older, we spend time talking cardiovascular health and aerobic fitness, but balance, flexibility and agility are also really important," she stressed.

One should note that the people who scored lowest on the test were the oldest, giving them an elevated risk of death.

Dr. Greg Hartley, Board Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist and associate professor at the University of Miami, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that we should take the study with a grain of salt. “Frailty, strength, muscle mass, physical performance—those things are all correlated to mortality, but I would caution everybody that correlation doesn’t mean causation,” he said.

And of course, the test doesn't take into account injuries or disabilities that may make doing the test impossible. But one of the study's authors says that the study is a call to take our mobility seriously.

“The more active we are the better we can accommodate stressors, the more likely we are to handle something bad that happens down the road,” Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, told USA Today.


This article originally appeared on 3.10.23