Career Break Month 4 Recap

November picked up where October left off…in my Tucson Airbnb house that I rented for a month. After two weeks in this desert town, I decided to settle in to Tucson a bit longer and find an apartment! Yep, I’m moving to Tucson! I found an apartment for mid-December and signed a 6-month lease. Yikes! A few people, who have likely never traveled more than 1 or 2 weeks at a time, asked why I was stopping “so soon.” Well, for starters, it’s exhausting and expensive! I really like what I’ve seen of Tucson so far, and I want to see more, from less of a tourist perspective. I also realized I’m getting the itch for international travel again, and it seems like that would be easier to do once I have a homebase and am not living out of my car. Not to mention launching a job search from the road…doesn’t seem like a good option! Yeah, sooner or later my “pre-retirement” will come to an end ūüôĀ

Saguaro National Park

My mom came to visit for 6 days at the beginning of the month, and we did a ton of touristy stuff. It was her first time to Tucson and even though I was only here 2 weeks, I did my research and we had a really packed week, starting with an overnight trip to the old mining town of Bisbee.

Back in Tucson, we spent one evening at the Kitt Peak Observatory, looking through giant telescopes at stars, planets and galaxies. We also visited the Sonoran Desert Museum, a must on any Tucson bucket list. (I’ll be publishing one eventually!)

We visited both units of Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, and spent some time downtown Tucson exploring the Turquoise Trail. (It’s literally a turquoise trail you follow around to various points of interest) And of course, eating so much good food, especially the abundance of Mexican food!

By mid-November, I’m settling back into my hike/swim/yoga routine. Then a cricket breached the (non-existent) barriers of the old Airbnb house I was renting. After a sleepless night, I decided to bail out of this place a week early. I probably overreacted, and maybe I was subconsciously itching to get on the road again. I don’t know, but it all worked out for the best. (Even though Airbnb was of no help since I didn’t report any issues within the first 24 hours. My host agreed to refund 50% of the nightly rate for the remaining nights.) We moved into the Sheraton Tucson for 3 nights while figuring out what do to next. It felt good to be back in a hotel again!

Sheraton Hotel Tucson

I decided to take the opportunity to head back to New Mexico. When I visited last month, I was starting to feel travel burnout and didn’t make the extra drive to White Sands National Monument. I regretted it soon afterwards, so this was a good chance to see the white sand dunes. We arrived just in time for sunset, and it was stunning! I was walking around just saying “wow” a whole bunch of times! Seriously, super cool! And dog-friendly!

White Sands National Monument

We spent the night at a cute little KOA cabin in Alamagordo, New Mexico and returned to White Sands the next day to explore a bit more. There were families sledding, and one family was posing in Santa hats, presumably for their Christmas photo. It certainly does look like winter!

Out of luck, a campaign I’d been pitching for a few months finally got finalized and I spent 3 nights in Prescott, Arizona. I loved this Northern Arizona town, especially the fall climate, and will be posting about my visit soon! I’m definitely going to be returning to Arizona’s Christmas City!

This left me with a 5-day gap before heading to Hawaii, which I decided to spend in Phoenix at the Crowne Plaza Chandler, a place I’d stayed previously for work and I had enough points for 5 nights! Chandler is a super cute suburb of Phoenix, and I just enjoyed the downtime, catching up on work and spending time at the pool, getting ready for my next two trips and the big move!

After 5 nights in Phoenix, it was finally time to head to Maui, which is where I ended the month! I arrived on the 27th and as of this post, I’m still here!

Beach at Westin Ka'anapal Ocean Resort Villas

After 6 nights in Maui, I’m headed to Chicago for a few nights. I’ll clear out my storage unit, catch up with family and then fly back to Arizona and settle in to my new apartment! It’s going to be a crazy month, and I’m certainly not anywhere near ready for the holidays, but I am excited to get back to Tucson and find a routine again!

Here’s my month in numbers:

  • Miles Driven: 2,285 (10,667 since leaving Chicago)
  • States Visited: 3 (Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii)
  • National Parks Visited: 1 (Haleakala)
  • Hotel Nights: 17
    • Copper Queen Hotel, Bisbee, AZ (1)
    • Sheraton Inn & Suites, Tucson, AZ (3)
    • Holiday Inn Express, Deming, NM (1)
    • Residence Inn, Prescott, AZ (3)
    • Crowne Plaza Chandler, AZ (5)
    • Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort (4)
  • Campground Nights: 1
    • KOA Alamagordo
  • Airbnb Nights: 12
  • Expenses: $6,232
    • Lodging: $1,324 (Airbnb was paid in October, and 5 of my 6 Maui nights were paid for earlier this year)
    • Gas: $280
    • Food: $726
    • Bailey: $280
    • Other: $3,741 (yikes! Really high this month, partly due to paying 6 months of auto insurance, security deposits on my apartment and movers, plus hitting the mall for the first time since I left Chicago!)

5 Month Travel Plan

Last week I announced that I left my job of 11.5 years in pursuit of some long-term travel. Right now, I see this as a six month journey. However, that could easily change to shorter or longer depending on a million things, because…life.

I am a meticulous planner; I love travel planning and I think it’s half the fun of travel. For this trip, though, I’m trying to leave as much open as possible. I want the option of lingering in a town I like, working with tourism boards or jumping on a press trip, changing my route to avoid weather or rerouting to see something new. There are a few spots on my itinerary that require advance planning but for the most part, what follows is a very loose agenda of where I’ll be spending the next five months!

August

I worked until the 3rd of August, moved my belongings into a storage unit and I’m now on a bucket list hiking trip in Switzerland.

Switzerland Haute Route

After two weeks of wandering the Alps, I fly back to Chicago, with a 24-hour layover in Reykjavik! Upon landing back in the States, I’ll spend a few days with family and friends, tidying up any loose ends in Illinois and then hit the road. My first stop will be Olathe, Kansas. I will then head west to Colorado, where I’ll end the month of August.

9.19.09 - the historical village of Twin Lakes

September

In September, I’ll spend a bit more time in Colorado, and then boogie on over to Utah. The Salt Lake City area is high on my list for a home base if and when I’m ready to stop moving. I’ve been there twice for quick job interview visits, so I want to spend some quality time here and get a feel for what it might be like to live here. From SLC, I will head up to Oregon for a bit. Despite living in Washington for 3 years, I’ve spent very little time in Oregon. I want to visit Bend and Crater Lake, then I am booked on a 4-day whitewater rafting trip on the Rogue River with OARS. After this, I will head to Lake Tahoe, another first for me, and then swing through¬†Southern Utah, one of my favorite regions in the U.S.

9/12 - Bryce

October

I will kick off October at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, followed by a trip to Page, AZ for as long as is needed to see all the amazing sandstone features I can. Then it will be time to make my way to New Mexico, where I’ll be meeting up with my favorite ladies for a girl’s weekend in Santa Fe. We’ll start at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival and then travel to Santa Fe for a few days of girl-time. Once the girls have gone home, I will spend the rest of the month bouncing back and forth between New Mexico and Arizona. Places like Taos, Sedona, Flagstaff, Silver City and Ojo Caliente are all on my wish-list.

9/9 - cow pie formation in Sedona

November

As winter approaches the high country, I will make my way back to a spot that captured my heart many years ago – the Big Bend region of West Texas. I won’t be able to do a ton inside the National park with Bailey, but will explore by car as well as the areas outside the park. I missed out on a lot my first trip because I was sick, so I’ll revisit places like Marfa and Ft Davis. For the rest of the month, I plan to explore¬†Tucson. Tucson is another place that I’ve considered for relocation as I love the desert and there is high elevation nearby to escape the heat. A couple of weeks should give me a sense of whether I might want to come back and settle in.

3.1.09 - Sonoran Desert Museum

December

Detouring from the road trip, I will begin December in Maui. I got a timeshare pitch/offer that I couldn’t refuse, so I will likely head to San Diego from Arizona and jump a flight to Maui from there. Once I return from Maui, I will make my way down the west coast as far as I can. I would love to spend the whole month in Baja Sur, but will need to iron out the details of driving through Mexico and what my comfort level is with that. I’m told it’s mostly safe, and the danger is in the road hazards more than anything else. I’ve also found online forums of snowbird gringos who drive down and organize caravans. If I decide I’m not comfortable doing that, I’ll kick back in Ensenada for the month, as it’s just a short drive from San Diego.

2018

This is where my plans fizzle out…I have no idea what I’ll do when the new year arrives. If I’m having fun, and not yet broke, I’ll keep going. I would love to spend the whole winter in Baja, eating $1 tacos and drinking Corona to my heart’s content. (My ultimate dream? Winters in Baja, summers in Alaska, with a long, leisurely drive in between) I would love to squeeze in an international trip as well, possibly South America or Central America. Or, I may be heading back to civilization and looking for stable employment again.

So…that’s my plan! Some parts of it feel super rushed. Winter comes early in the mountains and I’ll be racing the clock in September and October. I’m surprised that in a 4-month road trip covering only seven states, I’m still not going to see everything I want. With a plan to camp most nights, I don’t want to move every night, and I’ll supplement with hotels as needed. In anticipation of this trip, I traded in my American Airlines credit card for a International Hotels Group card – this way, every penny I spend will earn points towards stays at Holiday Inn Express, which I have found to be the most convenient dog-friendly option when traveling.

As much as I want to leave up to chance, I would love to hear what your favorite spots are along this route! Especially hikes, campsites, diners, bakeries, taco stands, swimming holes and pet-friendly hotels. Let me have it!

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trips out west

Southern Illinois: Shawnee National Forest

Illinois is a very long state – about 8 hours from top to tip. So, despite living in Illinois almost my whole life, I hadn’t explored Southern Illinois (aside from a wild college visit to Southern Illinois University, but that’s another story!) For years, I heard amazing things about Shawnee National Forest hiking, so I finally had to see it for myself!

Bailey loves a road trip!

Trail of Tears State Forest Camping

I reserved a campsite at Trail of Tears State Forest, one of many state parks in the area. Since this campground was more rustic, the sites were only $8 per night, as opposed to more “luxurious” campgrounds nearby, which charge closer to $30 per night. The campground was actually really unique – two rutted dirt road loops with a few campsites scattered among them. Each site had an outhouse, fire pit and picnic table, but otherwise it felt a lot like backcountry camping as you don’t have any neighbors.

New tent!

Pomona Natural Bridge

The first morning, I drove north to Pomona Natural Bridge, a natural rock arch in a green leafy forest. The bridge was just a short hike from the parking lot, thankfully, given the gross humidity already building early in the morning.

Pomona Bridge

Little Grand Canyon

Next up was Little Grand Canyon, which I read about many years ago. We started the loop at the back end to avoid crowds, but after about 2 miles were told the trail up ahead involved some rock scrambling and I didn’t think Bailey was up for it. (Plus, it was getting pretty hot and there weren’t as many creek crossings as I had hoped.) We headed back to the parking and lot and hiked in a bit in the opposite direction where B was able to cool off in a stream.

Little Grand Canyon

Cache River Wetlands

After naptime and cool-down at the campsite, we headed back out towards Cache River Wetlands area. Unfortunately, it was closed by then so we were done touring for the day. The next morning, we headed back again to that area as I really wanted to see the Cypress trees. At our first stop, the trail was flooded so we waded in a bit, just enough to get a few photos.

Cache River Wetlands

We then headed to the Heron pond area, where there were some nice, shorter hikes in the shade. This park was straight out of the Bayou!

Cache River Natural Area

Cache River Natural Area

Cache River Natural Area

We made a quick stop at Burden Falls for some photography (on my next vacation I finally realized that timing is everything for waterfalls and mid-day, full sunlight is the worst possible time!)

Burden Falls

Burden Falls

Our last hike for the day was Garden of the Gods State Park¬†in Shawnee National Forest. This place was packed with tourists, so we didn’t spend much time here, but it was fun to see the different rock formations and outstanding views above the valley.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

I decided not to stay a 3rd night at Trail of Tears. While it was a lovely campsite, it was on the far Western end of the area. We explored that side on Saturday, and then the Eastern side on Sunday, so rather than drive all the way back, I decided to pack up that morning and take a chunk out of the 7 hour drive that night.

I stopped for dinner at the lodge at Cave in Rock State Park – they had a nice little patio overlooking the Ohio River into Kentucky. A few of the parks, including this one, have cabins in addition to camping, which is a nice bonus.

Cave in Rock State Park Lodge

Rather than jumping on the Interstate, I took 2-lane highway 1 north about 3 hours and ended up camping at Lincoln Trail State Park. Nice little tent site, with a shower house nearby.  The hiking trails here looked pretty nice, too Рdefinitely someplace to return if I get the chance.

Lincoln Trail State Park

I would highly recommend Southern Illinois for a long weekend of exploring. Garden of the Gods and Giant City State Parks seem to be really convenient, central locations to all the attractions, as well as offering different types of lodging like lodges, cabins and camping.  For backpackers, the River to River trail also runs through here.

I don’t know if it’s age, or too many Midwest winters, or being spoiled by 3 mild Seattle summers, but unbearable heat and humidity seem to be a recurring theme for my trips recently and summer is quickly becoming a hibernation season for me. So, I’ll be sticking close to the A/C for the rest of the summer and hopefully get back on the trail again come Fall!

For all of my photos from this trip, click here!

Southern Illinois has great #hiking and #camping options! #EnjoyIllinois #getoutside Click To Tweet

And just for fun, a photo from my original trip to Carbondale in 1995.  Yeah, no hiking on that trip, lol!

Feb 1995 - Sarah and I took a road trip to Carbondale to visit Andrea at SIU.

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Southern Illinois