Want to Fly to the USA, Buy a Van and See the Place? Here’s my Advice

USA Road Trip Advice
On Our USA Road-trip my Friend D-Red and I saw Danny DeVito in NYC

An Australian Friend Had a Question:

If you guys know anyone or see a small van that might do the trick let us know!

Just wanted to pick your brain because you guys have travelled so much more than us. Is sleeping in a van in the states relatively safe? Any suggestions on how to transfer money from Australia to USA? We missed out on burning man tickets but are still trying. 

USA Road Trip Advice

Well, I’m an expert on this. I’ve made my response to my friend public here so that someone else hoping to fly to the USA, buy a van and drive across the country (maybe even go to Burningman) has access to this information too.

USA Road Trip Advice - New Orleans
We bought our car in Miami, FL and drove to meet friends in New Orleans, LA

Living out of a van in the USA

Living in a van in the USA is considerably more challenging than in Australia.

USA Road Trip Advice - New England
We drove from New Orleans to Connecticut

In Hawaii it’s nearly impossible and I would NOT suggest it. California is easier than Hawaii, but it’s a nightmare compared to Australia. The non-California western states (Nevada, Utah, Colorado, etc…) are perfectly fine.

USA Road Trip Advice - BLM land is free camping
We rode horses in Nevada. Nevada is 85% BLM land which means you can camp for free

You can always park in land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Those lands are public land so you are legal to park there any time. There are some rules against staying a long time, but you’re going to be moving around too much to worry about those rules. By the way, Nevada is like 85% BLM land so you could boondock for years there.

USA Road Trip Advice - Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is in South Dakota which is more than half way between New York and San Francisco

How to Trasfer Money From my Country to the USA

TransferWise.com is my favorite for transferring money from Oz to USA. I wrote about my experience in detail by clicking here.

If you use this link, you’ll get your first transfer for free (under $600). Also, I’ll get credit for referring you.

USA Road Trip Advice - Glacier National Park
We stopped to visit family near Calgary in Canada

Buying a Van – Living in it – Selling it

The USA is fine to live in a van. But the California coast isn’t as hospitable as the Gold Coast or other Aussie spots. The worst thing that will happen is the cops might knock on your door and tell you to keep driving.

The USA isn’t a dangerous place, we just have a really ridiculous news system that makes it seem like the sky is constantly falling.

If I were in your shoes, I would buy a van from a private party. In the USA, we use CraigsList.org.

Everyone uses in the USA. Los Angeles has killer deals on cars. New York and Miami are also great places to buy vehicles.

USA Road Trip Advice - Yellowstone
Drove Across the Country, this is just outside Yellowstone National Park

Use Specific Search on Craigslist.org

Craigslist is great for finding specific parameters for your purchase decision.

Here’s an example search that gets really specific when buying a car.

This search finds you a private party van between $1,000 USD and $6,000 USD which was produced before 1995 and has less than 90,000 miles on the odometer.

Don’t go CNG in the USA. Diesel and Gas should be your only options. CNG is natural gas. You’ll find those cars hard to sell and hard to fill up.

Also, CraigsList is full of sketchy folks. Be careful meeting someone sketch-ball in a non-public place with a hand-full of cash. Make sure to jump on the phone and get a good read on the person before heading out there. Also, their post will tell you a lot about who they are.

Great photos? Well-written description on the vehicle? Probably a good sign.

Two bad photos and the seller can’t spell well? Keep looking.

Cell Phones for Travelers in the USA

When you get to the USA and are looking for a cell phone, go with a PrePaid AT&T SIM card and use your unlocked smart phone.

AT&T has the best service when you’re driving across the middle of nowhere. T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint all offer prepaid plans, but they won’t work in the mountains or anywhere rural. If you’re staying in New York City and you want to spend an extra $5 a month, go with T-Mobile…. but that is silly.

I suggest AT&T prepaid for $45 a month. You only get 6 GB of data at fast speed, but you’ll just be throttled back after that and have slow internet after 6 GB per month. You’ll still have unlimited talk and text and the throttled speed is still good enough for emails.

That’s the best deal in the USA right now.

Make sure your cell phones are unlocked before leaving your home country too.

USA road trip advice - Napa California
We visited Napa, California for an amazing wedding

Want to Go To Burningman?

For years I bought my ticket in the last week before the Burn.

It’s possible that living in Reno made it easier. Reno is the biggest city near the event so we get almost everyone coming through town. I never had a problem finding a ticket as the event drew closer. Craigslist.org always paired me with someone. We talked on the phone, confirmed identity and expressed a commitment to meet and make the deal. It works all the time.

USA road trip advice - Sedona, Arizona
Our latest road trip adventure was to Sedona, Arizona.

Man! I like talking about this stuff. Please let me know below if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Mt Rose 2017

Mt Rose is sort of like my home away from home. I’ve been a pass-holder there since 1992, which is probably longer than I’ve ever done anything in my life.

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The Mt Rose Crew

Every once in a while the stars align and everyone is up there. Today was a pretty astonishing day because we had an epic group.

mt rose trail map

Here’s the trail map that was marked up for the making of the video.

mt rose trail map

The Chutes at Mt. Rose are pretty incredible. They almost never get much sun so the snow stays really soft. The thing that makes them extra fun is that they are really steep. Not approved for first time skiers.

Thank you for visiting the site. Make sure to subscribe on YouTube.

Adventure Ideas – River Scuttle – Emerald Pools to Washington City, CA

These are plans for a very hardcore river scuttle. Do you know what a river scuttle is?

A river scuttle is a journey in which you carry nothing but a waterproof bag. That waterproof bag is carried either slung around your arm and shoulder or it floats alongside you while you swim. The idea is that you are 100% prepared to be aquatic, but carrying everything you need to survive in your waterproof bag.

This journey described in the above image is an eleven mile trip. That means those doing the journey are doing nothing but cliff jumping, swimming, rock climbing and hiking the entire distance along the river.

Waterproof bags will need to have space for sleeping bags and shelter. This will be a 2-3 day trip.

This is a big journey. I’ve never met anyone who has undertaken it.

There are a lot of safety values. It’s dangerous, but not perilous.

Let me know if you want to go in the comments. I’m thinking that we head out in late June.

This is How to Get to Reno From Sacramento During Snowmageddon

Reno Snow!

Crossing from Sacramento to Reno right now is impossible because of the snow. Highway 50 has collapsed and I-80 is subject to close often because so many inexperienced snow drivers use it. This is how we crossed the sierras without either of those highways.

Reno Snow - Alternatives to I-80 and Highway 50

This is an image from CA-20 which has stunning views. We often drive this road in the summer because there are great cliff jumping spots on the Yuba River. It’s actually not even that snowy right now, the snowy part comes later.

Reno Snow – California is Wet

So the drive from Reno to Sacramento is usually a two hour quickie, but today we spent about six hours on the road getting from Capital City to the Biggest Little City. Despite the hyper inefficiency of it all, I had a great time.

Because of the slow drive, we were empowered to catch up on some really good podcasts. One on Science and Culture, one on investing AND an audible book called Ready Player One (get a free audiobook here).

I’m not going to lie, this is an ideal way for me to spend the day. While lots of people consider this a sort of emergency or terrible day, I love it.

Putting on chains, driving where few others drive, seeing small towns in naturally beautiful places; I love it.

When we did get back to Reno, I was excited to stop driving. The drive took about six hours. It would have taken a lot less time if we had gone straight there, but CalTrans closed the road a few minutes before we got to almost the peak of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Therefor we drove a lot of extra miles because we didn’t know the road wasn’t open.

There are two new towns I want to visit in the summer. One is Downieville, CA, the other is Sierra City, CA. Both of these cities look like great places to write a book or to go on an amazing Yuba River adventure.

Relevant Links When the Weather Gets Weird

Truckee River Flooding February 10th, 2017 | Downtown Reno, NV

This is just a quick movie about the flooding that is happening in the Truckee River. I think it’s kind of cool.

Enter Willie

Q: Have you ever seen the water this high?

A: I’ve seen it once or twice you know, but never really like this. I mean, it’s immaculate guys.

This is how it goes man. Right down here, as you can see, it’s really getting hot.

The ducks! The ducks are sitting on the side because they don’t even want to get in the water. If that ain’t bad… what is man?

Nice Lady #1

Truckee River Flooding 2017

Q: Is this the highest you’ve ever seen the Truckee River?

Yeah, besides a couple weeks ago yeah. It’s pretty crazy.

Q: Cool, do you think we’re still going to flood?

I really hope not because I live literally across the street there. I’m pretty glad they built that wall so I’m hoping we don’t flood.

I live on the bottom floor so if we flood, I’m screwed.

Nice Gentleman #2

Reno 2017 Truckee Flooding

Q: What used to be down here? It’s just a river now.

It is a side walk. The pathway goes under… but now it’s part of the river. It’s crazy!

Nice Lady #2

2017 Truckee River Flooding

Q: So the river is flowing a little less than it was in January?

Yes. It’s flowing a little lower than it was in January. It’s a little more mucked up too. In January it was grey and dark and very, very dramatic.

This is really something, it’s the Mighty Truckee.

Willie

I bet you if the fish could get out of the river, they would too! 😀

2017 Truckee River Flooding

Helpful Truckee River Links

Flood statusNational Weather Service’s website where they make predictions.

City of Reno = See what the city is tweeting about.

National Weather Service = Check NWS Twitter to learn about any warnings in the area, or to hear what’s happening on a national level.

Truckee River Ducks

 

TransferWise Review – International Money Transfer Case Study from USD to AUD

TransferWise Review - From USD to AUD

Get your First Transfer Free

The banks are out to get us. I’m seeking ways to fight back. International money transfers are one of the banks little secrets. TransferWise says they can save us. So I tried them. Here is a TransferWise review.

TransferWise Review
Click This Image for a Free Transfer

Planet Money did a great piece on the invisible financial pipes that move money. This was part of their “t-shirt project.” In it, they talk about the Automated Clearing House (ACH) and what it took to move money from their Kickstarter (e.g. Amazon) to their Chase Bank account. Note: Listen to that podcast. It’s excellent.

In Australia, the banks just offer free money transfers. That’s right. It’s free in Australia with bank apps on your phone. Apps like Cash and Venmo are making it easier in America. Transferwise is the only place doing it internationally right now that I know of.

We’re moving money to Australia this month. We’re going to be testing TransferWise.com to see if we can save ourselves some fees.

TLDR – It’s great. Click here to transfer your first bit of $ for free.

A Transferwise Review

A long time ago in a….

TransferWise came across my desk a long time ago in a paid advertisement on Facebook. I clicked through, but didn’t need to move money at the time. After bookmarking the page, I was excited for the opportunity when I would need to move a good amount of money internationally.

November 20th, 2015

Today was that day I found a need to move money from the USA to Australia.

The Transferwise steps were easy to follow. They have a pretty good UI on the surface, but it wasn’t perfect…

I noticed some strange glitches in their software. At one point, it seemed as if I saw someone else’s screen before it flashed back to my screen. Very strange and disconcerting when you’re moving large amounts of money. This happened a few times. It’s a glitchy user experience.

My International Money Transfer Situation

By the way, I’m moving about $4,300 USD from a CapitalOne account to a Commonwealth Bank account. To clarify, thats a United States savings account to an Australian checking account.

I was able to generate a code on the CapitalOne online banking login and use that code to authorize the transfer with the TransferWise.

To my dismay, I learned that the transfer will take 1-5 business days from CapitalOne to TransferWise. Also, my Australian bank will also require 2-3 business days for the money to clear in that account. So 3-8 days in total to move some digits across a line.

Ahhh the wonders of the modern financial system.

Anyways, I clicked transfer and the deal is in action.

As I go back to the site to check the status of the transfer, they have this cryptic page that doesn’t tell me information about fees. I’m unsure of the fee schedule. I can ascertain the conversion rate because they tell me the amount I’m transferring in USD and what we will receive in AUD:

  • $4,300 USD/$5,923 AUD = Which equals a rate of .725 AUD/USD
  • .72 AUD/USD is the mid-market rate as reported by Google

Testing Transferwise vs Midmarket Rate

So it looks great.

I’m in it now. I’ll wait 1-5 business days for CapitalOne to release the money to TransferWise. Then I’ll wait for however long it takes for the money to move through TransferWise to CommonWealth bank. Finally, I’ll wait 2-3 business days for CommonWealth to clear the funds on their end.

November 24th, 2015

Four days have passed.

The transfer has come through. It all cleared. Here is a screen shot of what I’m seeing via the dashboard of the Transferwise website:

Transferwise Screenshot for Case Study
I’ve blacked out my wife’s name. Nothing more.

Transferwise (as per the screenshot above) tells me that the transfer was completed for $5,923.79 AUD.

Commonwealth Bank Transaction Details

 

The amount shown in Commonwealth bank is $5,923.79 AUD.

The deal went through. They transferred what they said they would! Huzzah!

Deconstructing the International Money Transfer via TransferWise

This is the actual rate we experienced transferring from CapitalOne in the United States to the Commonwealth Bank in Australia:

$4,300 USD / $5,923.79 AUD = $.72588 USD/AUD

The mid-market exchange rate from Yahoo Finance saw a low of $0.7187 AUD/USD and a high of $0.7216 AUD/USD the day of the transfer. Here is a screenshot:

Transferwise review Mid-market rate vs actual transfer rate

So depending on the time of transfer, that $4,300 USD would have exchanged at a low of $5,983.03 AUD to a high of $5,958.98 AUD.

Here is a table describing the actual mid-market rate vs. realized exchange rate from the transfer:

The Day’s Price Point Mid-market rate at $4.3k USD Realized from Transfer Amount Unaccounted for in Transfer
When Market was Low  $5,983.03 AUD $6,023.25 AUD  $40.22 AUD
When Market was High  $5,958.98 AUD $6,023.25 AUD  $63.27 AUD

So the real cost of the money transfer was between $40-64 AUD (or $28-46 USD).

Free. Nope. Better than the banks? Good question.

November 24th, 2015 (Later that Night)

I received a receipt clearing some stuff up. This was my mistake. I get way too much Email and this was buried in the fray.

Here is a screenshot of it:

TransferWise Review - Final Receipt
I’ve blacked out my wife’s Email. Nothing more.

Conclusion

My guess is that the banks would offer a less attractive rate and also tag on a boatload of fees.

Transferwise did work. The ordering process was easier than going into the bank and talking to a teller. I will use it again next time I transfer money internationally.

Finally, they gave me a coupon code. If you want to use it, you could wire your first 3,000 GBP (roughly $4,500 USD) for free. If I had this code when I made the transfer, I would have actually realized the mid-market rate.

Here is the coupon code. Sure, this is an affiliate deal. You get your first transfer free if you use this link. Also, I get some money… I think. Or maybe just some free transfers. Either way, if you use this link, we both win. I did not write this article just to send you to TransferWise. I would have written ill of them if they sucked. Then I wouldn’t have put any links to send people to their service.

I wrote this article because I think international business needs to be cheaper, faster and more modern. Have a great time traveling dingo lover.

Updated November 20th, 2015 – Gold Coast, Australia