Real Talk: The Next Chapter’s Unfolding

As we’ve previously mentioned, Our Grand Tour is ramping up to head out on the road for real very shortly. We’ve sold our home in the super nova hot Seattle real estate market and set a date for our departure in mid-August. (First major road trip: North to Alaska!)

When we tell friends and family about this plan, there are two reactions:

You’re so cool! Man, I wish I were doing something like that. How awesome!!

OR….

You’re crazy!! Where will you go? What will you do with all your stuff? Are you NUTS?

The answers to all those questions are all still very much TBD. We’re both thrilled and a little terrified to start this new chapter with so many unknowns ahead. But, hey, that’s life, right?

We definitely never dreamed we would be taking this path, but, honestly, part of the reason we’re making this bold move… we can no longer afford to live in Seattle! It’s not the same city we moved to in 2007. And, while we truly wish nothing but the best for this beautiful spot on the Puget Sound, all the signs keep pointing us in this direction: GET OUT OF TOWN!

We’ll miss our friends, the vibrant food scene, the playoff-bound Mariners, our neighborhood, the Space Needle and so much more, but this isn’t goodbye forever. It’s just so long for now.

And… on that note! We have a new blog on our old newspaper. Please check out Going Mobile on The Spokesman-Review. Talk about going full circle!! We’re so grateful to have that platform to connect! We’re also posting our adventures on Instagram. Hope to see you down the road…

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Olympic Peninsula in a Peace Van
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Review: Malibu RV Park is AWESOME

Leslie says: I just returned to Seattle after a magical weekend in Southern California, where I visited our daughter. She was a great sport when I suggested spending a night out on the coast in a van. The experience was life-affirming.

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The view from our campsite at Malibu RV Park was stunning.

Stunning Beauty

There’s a good reason the wealthy have gobbled up the available land and built homes on the waterfront in this part of the world. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Long stretches of golden sand punctuated by dramatic rock formations. Sure, the weekend traffic can be a drag on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), but the scenery’s a calming distraction. Smack in the middle of all this beauty sits Malibu RV Park, high on a hill, with views that cannot truly be described in words. Well, except maybe awwwwwesome.

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Retro Cool

This rambling park has been around for 50 years, owned by the same family, and the attention to detail shows great care. When I called to make a reservation, a live person answered, and was so friendly and helpful. Same treatment when we checked in at the adorable office/corner store. The place is laid out on a series of terraces, with tent camping available up top. Spaces are tight, but, fortunately for us, we parked next to Gordon, a friendly guy from Red Deer, Alberta. His rig, the Hymer Aktiv, was new to me, and after a tour, I was really impressed. It’s going on the wish list.

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Ocean Viewing

I paid $50 for a site with a sweeping vista of the Pacific. (The price goes up after Memorial Day.) It was so worth it. We sat on the bluff and watched the sky turn pink at sunset. We spotted a pod of dolphins and pelicans drifted by in the sky. The WiFi didn’t really work, but that gave us the opportunity to catch up, and dig deep into important discussions, without those darned devices in hand. In the morning, an ultralight aircraft flew by as we ate breakfast. So entertaining.

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This trail leads to the incredible Malibu Seafood, a casual fish shack and pristine market.

Highly Recommended

My only regret about the Malibu RV Park is that we weren’t able to stay longer. We absolutely loved exploring the nearby trails, including one that led to the outstanding Old School Malibu Seafood. (Don’t miss the butter-poached mussels, and the fish-and-chips.) The bathrooms were spotless, and warm, there’s a laundry on site. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and offers $1 cup of coffee. Talk about a throwback! I’m definitely going to stay here again… when Our Grand Tour kicks off its cross-country adventure later this summer. Reservations are essential.

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Van Life: Looking for the Right Rig

Maybe you’ve purchased a house. More likely, you’ve bought a car or three. Fun and exciting, but also pretty stressful, right? Imagine shopping for a vehicle that’s going to double as home. It’s essential to find the perfect fit. The process can feel intimidating. Here’s how to.

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Research, Research, Research

We’ve been reading articles and talking to experts, studying the vans and RVs we see. We’ve done deep dives into online sales sites like RV Trader, swiping right on the photos that show features, lavish and sometimes spare. Trying to imagine what it would be like to cook or read or sleep in the snug space. But nothing beats…

The Test Drive

After renting various vehicles since we began to get a sense of what we want: Something that handles well, gets decent gas mileage and offers some creature comforts. We can’t really afford anything over the top and we aren’t the DIY types who could convert a cargo van. Or could we do something that meets in the middle?

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Considering the Ford Transit

This van has become a favorite to transform, and Leslie’s friend, Bryan, did just that a few months ago before taking a long road trip around the holidays. He took a minimalist approach, building a wooden platform for a mattress, adding rails with hooks, draping a shower curtain between the front cab and the back. No frills, but so functional. Especially the bed, because the Transit is wide enough to stretch out sideways, leaving lots more space up front. And it drove like a car, quick to respond, on the steering and brakes. The backup camera might take some getting used to, but it sure beats having a passenger jump out to act as a guide while trying to maneuver in tight spots. The Transit has just joined our list of possible purchases.

Coming Up Next, A Big Twist

We’re heading a whole new direction next week with a three-day journey pulling an Airstream Basecamp, a newish model that was designed for the active traveler. Can’t wait!

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Gear Review: Love the Coleman Stove

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When it comes to outdoor cooking, you want something that’s easy to use and store. For many years, we’ve been devoted to the Jet Boil for its light weight and ability to heat up quickly, but on a recent trip, we were mighty impressed with the updated version of the classic Coleman Stove.

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It’s About the Size of a Briefcase

Growing up, our family used Coleman stoves, and while they worked well, they were bulky and heavy. The newest model weighs just 10 pounds and fits neatly under a seat or in the trunk. It was included as part of the thoughtful perks that came along with renting a Westy from Peace Vans in Seattle. (Thanks, guys!)

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Compact, yet Powerful

This two-burner propane-fueled model throws out 20,000 BTUs, 10K per burner. Which is hella hot. We used it to cook sausages and fry potatoes and dinner was ready in 20 minutes. It was a little trickier to dial down the heat to scramble eggs, but we figured it out.

Wind Shield’s Are Cool

It wasn’t breezy enough to blow out the flame the days and nights we cooked outside on the Coleman Stove, but we still appreciated the aluminum shields that pop easily into place to keep the fire going.

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The Price is Right

Our beloved Jet Boil costs about $100 and is really best for heating up water in a hurry. (Does somebody NEED that morning cup of coffee? YES!) The Coleman retails for around $70, and has double the cooking space. It’s not going to make it into the backpack for an overnight hike, but it certainly makes cooking at a campground or at a picnic a lot easier.

 

Van Life: Our Fave Instagramers

They’re inspiring, mesmerizing, completely addictive, even educational. They’re Instagrammers living the Van Life. Hashtag: #homeiswhereyouparkit. Their numbers are vast, but here are just a few we feverishly follow.

1. project.vanlife

Curious about this ever-growing movement? This is a perfect place to start. Featuring so many enthusiasts embracing this mobile lifestyle, this collection of cool photos might get you moving in that direction, saying: Yes, I think I could do it!
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2. vanlifediaries

Awww, the folks who faithfully post here call describe themselves as a community dedicated to “love in motion.” They cherry pick pix from fellow van lifers who say “pick me!” by using the hashtag #vanlifediaries. Love the insider views showcasing the clever interiors and beautiful places people park their rigs.
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3. vintage_volks

Can we just have a group hug with everybody who is charged up about the retro VW van movement? It kinda started the whole lifestyle, way back when, didn’t it. Others have followed but these beauties are still the best, right?

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4. UnitedWeVan

The mission is noble, promoting intrepid travelers who are determined to make the world a better place through conservation efforts. We’re so on board with those efforts.

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5. 2girlsonevan

Plus, a kitty! This couple from the Northwest has 4,200+ followers, who, if they’re like us, appreciate the honesty behind the posts. It’s not always a picnic, especially when there’s an unexpected snowstorm. Thanks for sharing!

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6. we_who_roam

Bec and Gary are wandering far and wide in Tasmania, which looks wild and lovely. Their home on wheels looks gorgeous, especially the kitchen shots.

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7. d_bus_life

Talk about a sick travelogue. Where Pat and Cat go, we really wanna follow. Right now, they’re motoring along the TransAmerican highway, making good use of a droid to capture some stunning images.
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8. livingyourbestvanlife

Offering daily doses of “vanspiration”, this roundup of Insta-vanners from around the planet is another awesome place to tap into the vast community of like-minded adventure seekers. Those pics are likely to cause serious FOMO!
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Have some Instagrammers you think are essential to follow? Please share your picks in the comments!

Van Life: Campfire Cooking Challenge

Leslie says: One of the great joys of traveling in a van is being outside so much. The van’s a cozy shelter, especially on a rainy night, but there’s nothing better than an evening spent drinking wine, and hanging out around a blazing campfire. Unless it’s cooking over one. Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up since we started OGT. Scroll down to the bottom for an ultra-easy recipe.

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Invest in a Good Grill Pan

Yes, most people prefer to fire up meat directly over the source of heat, but 9 out of 10 camp grills are either filthy or rusty, or the bars too widely spaced. I’ve had great results using my beloved Lodge Cast Iron on top of the grate, heating it up by placing the lid on top. Add olive oil, the seasoned meat and cover. Minutes later, flip and finish.

Double Duty

While the meat rests — on our most recent trip, I made carne asada from Trader Joe’s — I warmed a chili mac pasta I made the night before. Five minutes later, we were eating.

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Clean Up Tip

Our friend, Ted, is the one-man cleanup crew on backpacking trips, and he’s a big believer in warming up water in the dirty pan. Makes it a whole lot easier to scour. John tried it after this messy meal and it worked well. We haven’t quite figured out how to efficiently use the teeny sink in the Eurovan’s kitchen for doing dishes, so the operation’s done outside. The vehicle we rented from Road Trip Oregon had a spray nozzle in the back, which was so helpful. The more we travel in these rigs, the more we LOVE them.

The Recipe: 4-Ingredient Cheesy Chili Mac

  • 1 package black bean pasta (I use the TJ’s brand)
  • 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes with green chili
  • 1/2 jar salsa
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

Cook pasta two minutes less than instructed on the package. (Because it’s going to finish cooking in the sauce.) Drain and add the tomatoes and salsa. If serving immediately, return to the heat and add cheese and warm until the cheese has melted. If warming up later, wait until the pasta has cooled to add the cheese.
Serves 4.

Wine Pairing Recommendation

Here’s a shocker! We drank a white wine with this hearty dish, a Pinot blanc from Erath. This dry, under-the-radar varietal has crisp fruit character and the backbone to stand up to all sorts of assertive flavors of the meal, brightening up the spicy beef and the cheesy pasta like the sun breaking through those gray storm clouds.

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How to Build a Raging Campfire

She says: When you’re hanging outside, a campfire is everything. It’s entertaining, and warm, of course. You can cook on it, searing steaks and turning marshmallows gooey. Stare into it and think deep thoughts.

It takes skill, patience and practice — and lots kindling — to make an awesome fire. Here’s some tips from Johnny.

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Prepping

A hatchet is key for cutting logs into drumstick size kindling. Crumple newspaper and form a pyramid of kindling around them. Add fire starters around that pyramid, if you’ve got them.

Light That Fire

Once the flames get going, don’t think the work’s done. When the kindling phase of this project is burning hot, it’s time to add the larger logs, one at a time. If those pieces don’t take off, add more newspaper. Johnny tears off strips of paper, laying them on top of the fire.

Essential Tool

A pair of extra long kitchen tongs are really helpful in moving pieces of wood around. It’s important to create airflow. The more oxygen moving through, the bigger the flames. Careful, though! Cuz, you know… it’s fire!

Here’s a quickie Instagram story, shot on our recent trip to the Olympic Pennisula:

Van Life: Time for a Test Drive

We’ve been talking A LOT about making this big move, hitting the road to live the Van Life dream… like so many others are doing right now. But in what? We’ve started seriously exploring our options.

Free Bird: A Van that Drives Like a Car

We first spotted this custom rig at the recent RV show, and it left a lasting impression. It’s a Nissan NV200 that a Seattle dealership custom fit, inspired by the owner’s love of the classic VW camper vans. So, it’s a passion project for brothers, Kurt and Craig Campbell, who own Campbell Nissan. You can tell there’s a lot of thought and care that went into creating this vehicle.

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Pros/Cons

Johnny jumped behind the wheel — “because, let’s face it, I’ll be doing most of the driving” — and he was instantly impressed by its solid feel on the road. It drives like a car, and gets incredible gas mileage. Before we take the leap, though, there are some issues to consider.

  • Space is tight: The table breaks down and becomes the roomy, very comfy bed, but where does ALL our stuff go? There are some interior storage bins and the option for a rocket box on top, but this van almost feels more like a weekender than a viable housing alternative.
  • But wait! There’s also the option to add on a fairly large awning. AND panels can be added to that setup, effectively creating another “room.” Very cool.
  • Cooking challenge: The kitchen setup is out the back end, and it includes a one-burner setup heated by butane. Not as efficient as propane, and lots of waste because those cartridges are not refillable. So, you’d probably need to get that portable Coleman stove, or bring the trusty Jet Boil into the equation.
  • Powering up: Unlike the Westy, you can’t pull into an RV spot and plug in to power up. The battery runs the “fridge” (which is a small drawer, so you’d need an additional cooler, too), and a couple USB outlets, but there are no plugs to power up a laptop or other gadgets.
  • No riders: This is a two-person vehicle, period.

 

Lots of Thoughtful Touches

There are nice special features, including:

  • Screens on windows
  • Custom-made privacy curtains
  • A ceiling fan
  • The table has cup holders
  • It’s compact; we could park this in our teeny garage
  • It’s easy to convert it to a cargo van; everything slides out!

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The Price is RIGHT

Most of the camper vans we’ve looked at come with pretty hefty prices, including the spectacular Sprinter outfitted by Airstream that rings up at a cool $217,000. The Free Bird is around $35,000. We’re still shopping. As much as we’d love to DIY an empty, high roof, that’s not gonna happen, so this nifty ride is at the top of the list right now.

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