Come Sail Away

After six months exploring the Eastern Hemisphere, six months and 10,000 miles in the USA, we are now on our way to our next big adventure: Europe!! But why live the life of an every day European traveler when there is a chance for me to make things more complicated? Rather than fly to Europe, we opted for a 14 day, trans-Atlantic cruise. That’s right, we’re on a “mother f*cking boat!” sailing from Miami, Florida to Civitavecchia, Italy.

I Put My Toes in the Water

It has been on my bucket list to do a “crossing” for quite some time. But, given our somewhat precarious financial situation, that in itself might not be a good enough motivation for actually doing it. So, here is my financial break-down of why cruising was actually a super clever idea:

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  • We had obligations scheduled at Mom’s house from March 7 to March 28.
  • Mom doesn’t have internet at her house, so we can’t make any money.
  • Our first European house sit was booked in Germany for April 13.

With these facts in mind, it was challenging to work out the perfect financial balance. We needed to move on from Mom’s house ASAP so that we could make money (we work online, after all), but we didn’t want to show up to Europe too soon and have to pay expensive EU prices. What’s a girl to do? Make a spreadsheet, of course!

Beyond the Sea

Let’s say we were to fly to Europe on the 28th. Thankfully, flights from Orlando to Frankfurt are really quite affordable at an average of $400 one-way. That brings us to one full day of travel and a loss of $800, leaving us with 15 days between landing and our first sit. Assuming we stayed in Germany for that time, we would make an average of $20 per day by working online for 14 of the days. However, we would also have to spend an average of $50 per night on a budget hotel and $25 for food. Without any entertainment or inter-city travel, that puts us at +$280 for work and -$1080 for living expenses. Altogether, we’d be looking at paying a minimum of around $1600 to fly and stay in Europe.

Now let’s look at checking off my bucket list idea of cruising. The price for two tickets for an inside room for 14 days was $1,768. That includes room, transportation, food, and entertainment. It does not include internet or the $28 per day gratuity charge. Thankfully, we saved up $200 of on-board credit from our credit card reward points. This brought the final cruise bill to $1,960.

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In conclusion, it was definitely more expensive to take the cruise than it was to fly, but not by much. However, by doing the crossing, I was able to tick an item off my bucket list, eat delicious 5-star meals, see nightly shows, visit two new countries, and make a ton of new friends. I’d say it was 100% worth the extra $350.

Just A Dream and the Wind to Carry Me

With my calculations complete, we opted to forgo the usual flight to Europe and instead booked passage on a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Seas for 14 days from Miami to Rome’s nearest port, Civitavecchia. The crossing took us through a total of nine sea days along with stops in the Azores, Gibraltar, Alicante, and Valencia.

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Ocean Front Property

There were some early issues with our bookings which led us to getting a different room than the one we’d originally booked. We ended up down on the second floor, directly across from the crew’s quarters. It was so far off the beaten path that there was only one set of stairs that led to it rather than the usual two. On the positive side, we got a lot of exercise from climbing up to the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth floors. We had a port-hole window, which was nice, but when the seas got rough (and they did), our window had to be covered by a steel plate, essentially turning it into an inside-cabin, which often sells for nearly half the price of an outside cabin.

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That said, the room itself was actually quite nice and comfortable. After spending several months in the van, it felt really spacious. We had a bed, two night stands, couch and coffee table, TV, desk, closet, and bathroom. The bathroom wasn’t big enough for two people, but had plenty of space for one person to comfortably move around.

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Eating Cake By the Ocean (Actual Cake)

It is well known that cruises are all about the food. Though I disagree with the “all about” portion of that statement, I can’t deny that food plays a really big role. We almost always ordered coffee, orange juice, and assorted pastries through the free room service each morning. There were several options for lunch, but we most often visited the buffet. The buffet always included meats and cheeses, salad bar, hamburger and pizza station, a rotating international foods station, and a dessert buffet. For dinner, we opted for the 5:30 meal time in the “formal” dining room. We shared a table with eight other people and were served delicious three-to-five course meals.

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Full Time to Floatin’

The ship had a lot to offer as far as entertainment. Each night, I received a schedule of the following day’s events and activities. Every night I went through it with highlighter in hand to plan out the next day for maximum fun-ness. The scheduled daily entertainment included trivia contests, scavenger hunts, and wellness activities. Each evening there was a scheduled stage show. My previous cruises told me that only 50% of the shows are any good; however, this particular ship provided excellent stage entertainment. I was floored with all but two of the 13 shows. For the late evening, there was karaoke, dancing, and adult-themed games.

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In addition to the scheduled activities, there were magazines and board games, pool tables, ping pong tables, rock wall, mini-golf course, video-game arcade, movie theater, pool, shuffle board, shops, bars, and more. Needless to say, we did not get bored on this trip! On the contrary, we lost some weight taking yoga and dances classes, and made a name for ourselves as the Sudoku and chopsticks masters (long story).

I’m Sailing Away

I’m so glad we opted to take a ship across to Europe instead of fly. It was an amazing experience I will never forget. We ate delicious foods, met amazingly talented people, and saw new places. I love trying new things, especially when it comes to transportation and travel. Join me as I recall our adventures at sea over the next couple of blog posts. Stay tuned. Europe is coming!

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Florida – Again

After seven months and 10,000 miles of driving, we returned back to our #Vanlife beginnings in Florida. During the seven months, we drove through 24 states and slept in 21 of them. We completed eight house sits, with eight different cats and 14 different dogs. After completing our American #Vanlife road trip, I feel so much more connected to my home country and the people who live in it. Which made our final stop on the route particularly special, because we headed back to Mom’s house for the first time since her surgery.

Ocala, Florida

Our first stop was to a friend’s house with Mom in Ocala, Florida. They have a beautiful home among the trees. I saw some new birds and more lizards than I could count. Our friend has three dogs who allowed us plenty of cuddle time while we weren’t house sitting. We spent most of our time in Ocala socializing with friends and family, swimming in the pool, and working. By the time we reached Ocala, I was full-force into my new job as an English teacher with VIPKID.

Dogs in Ocala, Florida - The Places We Live

VIPKID is a Chinese company that hires native English speakers with any degree to teach English to Chinese students. I write my own schedule and am given a lesson plan, so it is all pretty easy. Most of my students are between four and twelve years old. I spend about two hours a day doing this and am making about $280 per week. I can’t complain… except when Mom would laugh at my funny faces during class and take my picture.

VIPKID Teacher - The Places We Live

We were also lucky enough to visit one of the main attractions of Ocala, Silver Springs State Park, a nature preserve with beautifully clear natural springs. Silver Springs began as an amusement park that imported “wild” monkeys and acted as a popular filming destination for TV and movies. Now, recognized as a state park, it is home to manatees, alligators, and yes, monkeys. We spent the day exploring the miles of walking trails and took a ride on the glass bottom boat over the crystal clear waters of the park’s namesake springs.

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And also got attacked by gators

Melbourne, Florida

Mom really enjoyed her time house sitting in Hilton Head, South Carolina with us, so we booked another sit less than an hour north from her house. We had a two bedroom apartment right off the beach. It rained nearly every day, so we didn’t get much exploring done, but we did enjoy our time playing with one of the cutest dogs we had ever met, Ollie. OMG, that guy stole all of our hearts from the second we walked in the door. I was really worried Mom was going to take him home with her.

House Sitting in Florida - The Places We Live

After a couple of days with Ollie, we headed back to Mom’s house to officially wrap up our American #Vanlife adventure. We visited the beach, helped with a yard sale, won the local trivia night, and sold the van. Spending our last week of the road trip with Mom back in Florida was a really special ending to a very special adventure. But all good things must come to an end… to make room for even more great things! 

That’s right! The traveling duo isn’t done yet. Stay tuned for our next big adventure!





Mardi Gras in New Orleans

It is finally time for the main event. We were so fortunate to get a wonderful house sit in the heart of New Orleans for Mardi Gras! Festivities in New Orleans last for about a month, allowing us plenty of chances to catch the parades and enjoy the excitement of the city.

About Mardi Gras

The lead up to Mardi Gras season actually begins closer to Christmas. According to tradition, 12 days after Jesus’s birth on Christmas, the three kings came to visit him bearing gifts. This day is known as Three Kings Day, the 12th Day of Christmas, or Epiphany. This day marks the first day of the Carnival and Mardi Gras celebrations. The last day is known as Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday (translated into French as Mardi Gras). Traditionally, Christians would feast during this month of celebrations and enjoy the pleasures of food before the lent season began on Ash Wednesday (six weeks before Easter).

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Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

When in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, the festivities begin about two weeks before Fat Tuesday, with at least one parade scheduled every day. The parades are coordinated and run by social clubs called Krewes. Parade float riders wear masks (it is actually illegal to take them off!) and throw various items to the crowd. The colors of the holiday (yellow, green, and purple) can be seen everywhere throughout the city.

We joined the rest of the 10 million-plus visitors to New Orleans during the peak time, about five days before Fat Tuesday. The first of the super-krewe parades start on Saturday and Sunday, Lundi Gras celebrations on Monday, and the massive amount of parades and parties on Mardi Gras day.

Endymion Parade

We attended one of the most famous of New Orlean’s Mardi Gras’ parades run by the Krewe of Endymion. Rolling their first parade in 1967, the Endymion parade is now one of only three super-krewes and is the largest parade in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Each year they have a theme and celebrity participants. This year’s theme was Wonder Tales of Science Fiction. The celebrity participants included Flo-Rida, Lionel Richie, and Chicago.

Endymion Parade - New Orleans for Mardi Gras

Like nearly every Mardi Gras parade, the Endymion floats throw beads to the crowd. Over the years, the locals and crowds have grown tired of collecting the cheap plastic beads, so many of the “throws” are now more elaborate. There are limited edition beads, plush toys, glow sticks, and more. The motto of the Krewe of Endymion is “Throw Until It Hurts”. They absolutely lived up to that. Many of the crowd standing around us brought large bags to carry all of their collected throws. I wore all of mine and could hardly carry the weight of them by the end of the night.

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Mardi Gras at the French Quarter

We took a trip to the French Quarter for Lundi Gras. Less than half a square mile in area, it is the oldest section of the city. We walked through an excellent hand-made mask market, the French market (which seemed more like a typical American flea market), and explored several quirky shops.

Mardi Gras Masks - The Places We Live

Bourbon Street is located in the heart of the French Quarter and is one of the most infamous streets in the city. Even at 2:00 in the afternoon, the streets were packed with people. Above, there were even more people on decks throwing beads to passerbys. We saw several people flash their breasts in exchange for beads. I was very thankful I did not have to do that during the parade; my arms would have been awfully tired!

Bourbon Street, New Orleans for Mardi Gras

Ash Wednesday

The Mardi Gras holiday season ends promptly at midnight on Fat Tuesday. Mounted police march through Bourbon Street and announce the end of Mardi Gras and the beginning of Lent. I was up early on Wednesday to find Twitter packed with comments from tourists complaining they were kicked out of the streets at midnight. These posts were followed up by harsh criticisms from locals reminding the tourists of the local traditions. Out on the streets of New Orleans on Ash Wednesday, people were much more reserved than before.

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Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

As an outsider from both the city and the religion, it was interesting to see the transition from the Mardi Gras holiday of gluttony and revelry, to the penitence and solemnity of the Lenten season. It perfectly reflected my impressions of New Orleans. To me, it was a city of honest character. No matter how strange the actions of people seemed at first glance, I got the feeling that each action had purpose and meaning. Further, it seemed a city of people who were living their lives exactly the way they intended to.

In conclusion, I’m so glad we got the opportunity to visit this amazing city, especially during that special time. New Orleans has so much history and character even on an average day. To experience what makes New Orleans unique in the throes of one of the most famous American celebrations was unreal. It was a trip we will never forget.


Experiencing “Fevre Dream”

In early March, Josh and I wrapped up one of George R.R. Martin’s earlier works, Fevre Dream. It is a vampire book set on a steam boat in the Mississippi River, with much of the story taking place in or near New Orleans. As a fan of literary tourism, I couldn’t help but book us passage on the steamer Natchez to experience Fevre Dream for myself. It turned out to be a wonderful adventure, and pleasantly vampire free.

Fevre Dream

George R.R. Martin is most well known for being the author of the A Song of Fire and Ice series (Game of Thrones). Time Magazine has called him the “American Tolkien” and has added him to the top 100 most influential people in the world. 14 years before Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin published the “Bram Stoker meets Mark Twain” vampire story, Fevre Dream.

Fevre Dream is about a vampire named Joshua York and his human business partner, Abner Marsh. Together, they build the biggest and fastest river-boat steamer the world has ever seen. Although Joshua is the blood-sucker, Abner’s love for his steamer, the Fevre Dream, is really the most troubling part of the story. His bullishness and deep desire to make a name for the boat gets him in all sorts of trouble, leading to the revelation that his partner is a vampire. And that his vampire partner has other vampire friends who eat people. So the plot thickens.

Fevre Dream is no Game of Thrones. The story is a bit lacking and the characters lack the depth of his GoT cast. It was a decent read, however, and left us very curious about this strange world of river-boat steamers. Do they really race along the Mississippi River? How big could they really be? Our trip to New Orleans gave us the perfect opportunity to explore.

The Steamer Natchez

In the book, as well as real life, the Natchez was famously fast. In 1870, it broke the speed record against the Robert E. Lee in a race from New Orleans to St. Louis. That version of the Natchez (there have been nine since 1823) was 301 feet (92 m) long and had eight boilers. In the book, it is Abner’s wish that the Fevre Dream be bigger, faster, and more beautiful than the famous Natchez.

Steamer Natchez - The Places We Live

Now, Natchez IX is one of only steam powered sternwheelers left on the Mississippi River. It no longer transports cotton from south to north, but instead runs daily river cruises out of New Orleans. While we were in town, we booked a two-hour Dinner and Jazz River Cruise. We got excellent views of the city, a New Orleans buffet dinner, and a look into the life of a steamboat passenger. I also bought a Bloody Mary. It seemed appropriate when walking in the shoes of a vampire.

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We Survived

Any time we can put ourselves into the settings of the books we read, it adds a special layer of intrigue. We really enjoyed our steam boat cruise and felt like we better understood the characters of Fevre Dream. I particularly enjoyed yelling “Joshua!” in my best Abner Marsh southern accent. There is nothing quite like pestering Josh in a special place and in a fun accent. 🙂



Food of New Orleans, Louisiana

Leaving Austin behind was difficult, but we had the incredible luck to book a house sit in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, and even though we’re not really the biggest partiers, it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime adventures we just couldn’t pass up. In addition to witnessing all the outlandish revelry, we were really excited to dive into the world of food in New Orleans!

New Orleans Cuisine

Louisiana is a southern state bordered by Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. Before the purchase of Louisiana (along with half the country) by the USA, it was both a French and a Spanish colony. This mixture of early ownership, along with the importation of African slaves and the long history of Native American inhabitants, gives Louisiana a very rich and varied culture that predates the formation of the United States.

New Orleans - The Places We Live

This rich cultural history is reflected by the unique and varied nature of food in New Orleans. One of the most distinctive regional cuisines in the country, it is a mixture of traditional Southern or Comfort Food, Creole Cuisine, and Cajun Cuisine. Some famous dishes invented in New Orleans include the Po’ Boy sandwich, Gumbo, and Bananas Foster.

New Orleans Po’ Boy

Po' Boy - The Places We Live

Per the suggestion of our host, one of our first snacks was a Po’ Boy. Originating in Louisiana, these sandwiches are made of a hard-crusted bread and meat. I ordered the Dressed Fried-Shrimp Po’ Boy. A “dressed” Po’ Boy includes lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayonnaise. The bread was very crunchy on the outside and did a number on the roof of my mouth. However, the rest of the bread was very soft and paired very well with my tender little shrimps.  Josh ordered the more traditional hot roast beef, which was tender and juicy from au jus. Overall, our impression of the Po’ boy was… meh. It was tasty, but I value my gums too much to risk eating this dish again.

Seafood Galore

Catfish - Food of New Orleans - The Places We Live

Next up on our tour of the food of New Orleans was fried catfish topped with meuniere sauce and pecans. This dish was fantastic! The mashed potatoes were particularly special. They are first cooked in the seafood boil pot so they pick up a lot of extra fun flavors, then mashed and mixed with plenty of butter. We shared this dish along with a cup of gumbo (Louisiana’s official state dish) and a cup of crawfish corn chowder. The gumbo had just the right amount of heat, creating a little burn that served to enhance the other flavors. The chowder was creamy and thick and chock full of tasty crawfish bites. Although we’d never had any of these dishes before, each felt familiar and comforting. I could easily eat any of them every day for the rest of my life.

Parade Food

Endymion Parade Float - The Places We Live

Another dish came about as we were visiting one of the major Mardi Gras parades. As we were waiting for it to begin, we noticed something unusual about the choice of food people brought to the parade – almost everyone was eating fried chicken. I have never seen anyone eat fried chicken at a parade before, so to see a whole city’s worth of people doing it was mind boggling. So, we had to order some chicken. Long story short, I will now be eating fried chicken at every parade from now on. I’ve been missing out.

I’m Hungry

I hadn’t intended on writing an entire post solely about food, but there was just no avoiding it. Eating the distinctive flavor combinations of the food of New Orleans really set the scene for our temporary home. The food was spicy, creative, and comforting, much like the city itself. We barely scratched the surface, and definitely missed out on a few local specialties (pralines and boudin come to mind). However, the few things we did have were so good that we now have no choice but to return for a proper food tour. My advice: if you’re going to New Orleans, pad out your food budget and make time to eat all of the things! Your stomach will thank you for it.


House Sitting in Austin, Texas

After 780 miles (1255 km) of driving from our house sit in New Mexico, we arrived at our next job house sitting in Austin, Texas. This was one we were particularly excited about. Not only had we been wanting to visit Austin for quite some time, but we hit it off with our hosts right away during our initial Skype interview. It came as a bit of a bummer when we didn’t get the job initially, which happens from time to time when you aren’t the first applicant. However, we got a second chance when the other sitter had to cancel. We were so excited we immediately adjusted our plans to fit Austin back in the schedule. It was definitely the right decision.

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Austin, Texas

Texas is the second largest state (behind Alaska) and second most populous state (behind California). It is considered a Southern state and is bordered by New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mexico, and the Gulf of Mexico. Texas’s history is slightly different than many of the other American states as it was held by Spain, France, Mexico, and was an independent republic all before joining the Union. My opinion (based simply on observation) was that Texans are very proud of this history and feel almost more connected to their state than the country as a whole. It reminded me a little bit of the Sicilian saying, “We are Sicilians first and Italians second.”

Austin, Texas, USA. The Places We Live. Map of the USA with Austin highlighted.

We were house sitting in Austin, the state capital of Texas. Although it is only the fourth most populous city in Texas, it is the 11th most populous in the country. Austin is home to a diverse culture of artists, high-tech workers, and students. It even ranks in the top three cities with the greatest population of people identifying as LGBTQ+. Although the adopted motto of “Keep Austin Weird” may not fit with much of the political and religious beliefs held by many Texans, it makes for the perfect place to visit for old-millennials like us. Just check out this Perfect Weekend in Austin post and you’ll understand.

Our Home

While house sitting in Austin, we lived in the neighboring suburb of Round Rock. Our house was a two-story, single family home at the edge of a park. It had three bedrooms, 2.5 baths, two living areas, and an office. Similar homes in the neighborhood are selling for around $250,000. The home was very modern, with nearly all of the gadgets being either automatic or controlled by the family Alexa. We particularly enjoyed the master suite and master bath. I loved the adjustable bed and hands-free lighting.

House Sitting in Austin Texas - The Places We Live

The neighborhood was nice and quiet, with several parks and walking paths just out the front door. A few blocks away, we had our choice of grocery stores and some restaurants. Our favorite was the Salt Lick, a Texas BBQ house that is popular in the area. We waited nearly an hour for a seat, but were rewarded with delicious pulled pork (a faux pas, apparently; we should’ve got the brisket), mac n’ cheese, and baked beans.

Our Family

Our hosts are a young couple from the area who run an amazing, free internet marketing project. We were lucky enough to get to spend an evening with them before they left for their holiday in Taiwan, and had a blast getting to know them and compare notes on our career paths. They are the parents of three well-loved dachshunds: Lucy, Maggie, and Marcy.

Austin House Sitting Pets Lucy and Maggie

I have to start with Lucy because she is the princess of the house. She is a beauty queen who loves lap sitting and sleeping with her tongue out. In the very important sleeping arrangement scheme, she took the head of the bed. I often awoke to her tangled in my hair or sleeping on Josh’s neck.

Austin Texas House Sitting Pet, Maggie

Maggie tries very hard to be the alpha dog. She has all the confidence and ambition necessary, but lacks the social awareness. Maggie enjoys two things: sleeping under blankets, and being alone while she sleeps under her blankets. I enjoyed Maggie very much, but I got the feeling my love was one sided and that she was only letting me pet her out of politeness. Maggie had a special bedtime ritual, getting tucked in under a blanket on her dog bed. By morning, she was under our blankets and snuggled along my back.

Austin House Sitting Pet, Marcy

I don’t play favorites, but if I did, Marcy would win for our house sitting in Austin. She enjoys cuddles and playing with toys. Although Lucy was always the first to jump on my lap when I sat on the couch, Marcy was shortly behind and made sure to get the prime real estate. Marcy was my little spoon at night. She cuddled under the blankets at my stomach with her head under my chin. My bed feels cold without her now.

Our Work and Personal Development

We’re pretty settled in our routines now and have been able to maintain them well as we move from house to house. While house sitting in Austin, Josh worked on the final round of editing for his book and I worked on my various marketing campaigns. The one new work-related change was that I became a VIPKID Teacher. I now teach English to Chinese students for a few hours each week. It has been a lot of fun and is bringing in some steady money.

VIPKID

It was an oddly perfect stay for cooking. I don’t know what the difference was, but for our entire stay in Austin, every meal we cooked was perfection. We challenged this theory by trying out some new dishes, including an involved cupcake recipe, but still ended up with great meals. I’m not complaining. Everything was just weirdly good.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes - The Places We Live

Our Lives House Sitting in Austin

We took a couple of trips into Austin proper. Josh’s favorite part was the food. This included our crazy delicious banana, honey, and bacon doughnut at Gourdough’s Big Fat Donuts, and the street tacos we tried in the SoCo district (South Congress). I enjoyed all of Austin’s street murals and quirky shops. It reminded me a lot of Portland, Oregon, but warmer and cleaner. Unfortunately, we didn’t spend nearly enough time in town to get a good feel for everything Austin has to offer, especially the music scene the city is known for. Guess we’ll just have to go back, dang it!

Keep Austin Weird - The Places We Live

All in all, we had a fantastic time house sitting in Austin. This is hands down one of the best sits we’ve ever done. The house itself was comfortable, the dogs absolutely lovable, and we made some great new friends in the process. Though we’d never really considered living in Texas before, Austin is now in the running for becoming our permanent home. One way or another, we’ll definitely be spending more time in Austin in the future.


New Mexico Road Trip

Once again, it’s time to hit the road. As this is our first visit to New Mexico, we decided to extend our travel days a little bit and enjoy a small road trip. The journey from our house sit in New Mexico to the next one in Texas led us South along New Mexico Highway 285, which runs along the east side of the state from Santa Fe down to Mexico, passing through Roswell and Carlsbad along the way.

Roswell, New Mexico

192 miles from Santa Fe is Roswell, a small-ish city of less 50,000 residents made famous by the Roswell UFO Incident of 1947. On June 4, 1947 the US Army Air Force launched a top secret, high-altitude balloon. Ten day later, one of these crashed balloons was found by a local man in Roswell, New Mexico. To make a very long and interesting story short: people yelled “Aliens!”. The event has become the stuff of legend, launching a conspiracy theory that has many still believing that the crash was not a balloon but an alien space craft.

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A fact that the good folks of Roswell are not shy about playing up for the tourists

Now, Roswell is home to a lot of alien-themed tourism and, interestingly enough, the world’s largest mozzarella cheese factory. The shops in town are sprinkled with alien statues or silly alien themed puns. Even our campsite on the edge of town had a little green man guarding the door. Sadly, we got in too late to visit any of the museums, but they looked very interesting and worth a visit.

Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico

America’s longest government shutdown was finally over, which meant we could actually visit a national park again! This was just in time for a good one too: Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Once an inland sea (over 200 million years ago), Carlsbad Caverns is now a series of nearly 120 limestone caves. The park is open year round (minus holidays) and costs $15 per person. If you have the America the Beautiful Pass, which I strongly recommend, the card holder plus three adults can enter free!

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We scheduled an entire day for the park, so we took the long way into the caves, hiking a little over a mile through the winding walkways of the cavern’s Natural Entrance Trail. The entrance itself was stunning, but once inside we were in awe. It just kept on going, deeper and deeper underground, finally reaching the main attraction 1,000 feet (304 km) below the surface.

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Once we finally reached the “bottom” we met up with the elevator access area in The Big Room. At 4,000 feet (1,220 m) long, 625 feet (191 m) wide, and 255 feet (78 m) high, The Big Room is the fifth largest chamber in North America and the twenty-eighth largest in the world. (Wikipedia). Understandably, it took us another hour to hike around the whole thing. Comedian Will Rogers called the Carlsbad Caverns, “The Grand Canyon with a roof over it.” He was spot on. The place is massive!

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Carlsbad Caverns is also home to a plethora of limestone rock formations

A few hours and a few miles later, our feet hurt and we were getting hungry, so we took the elevator back up to the top. From April through October, Carlsbad Cavern is home to hundreds of thousands of bats. Each evening during the season, visitors can watch the bats enter and exit the caves en masse. We were pretty disappointed to miss the right season, but we did take a moment to stare longingly at the watching area. It looks like it would be an epic show.

New Mexico Road Trip to Texas

We really enjoyed our time in New Mexico. The landscape ended up being far more diverse than we had imagined and stunningly beautiful. I’m really glad we got the opportunity to see as much as we did. But so continues the life of a full-time traveler: we must move on. We drove across western Texas to land the following day for our next house sit in Austin, Texas!