Category: My Story

Going on about the experiences that lit the path for me to end up wandering where I am right now.

Catching Up With… Happy Camper

Catching Up With… Happy Camper

It’s been too long since I’ve been made a concerted effort to blog, so… in sticking with the program of sticking with a program, here’s what’s been going on in our world while we’re Working on Happy…

MuffinWagon Died & Reborn

Ahh… the MuffinWagon™ – Our 10 year old minivan we’ve taken on hundreds of trips for over 100,000 miles — DisneyWorld, Stone Mountain, Washington DC, Nashville, Cocoa Beach, the Everglades, and much much more.  Well, after all that crazy living, the harmonic balancer (whatever in the world THAT is) decided it needed to die.  The rubber gaskety thing that balances harmony got old, vulcanized, and the thing went “kerchunk”. This killed all the power transfer to the air conditioning, power steering, and alternator.  Suddenly the van was SUPER hard to steer, and the battery light came on.

A few months ago, the dealership told us, when we took it in for the “free oil change”, how we were leaking power steering fluid and “any day now” it would just give out and we’d Thelma and Louise right off of a cliff.  They gave us a ludicrous estimate, so I wanted to hold off on that, realizing that while we’d lose the POWER part of the steering, we’d still have steering.  When I took it in to get its harmony balanced, the mechanic said there was no sign of a leak and the power steering fluid was full.  I’ve always been fairly confident that the dealership “free oil change” was just a BS way to get us into grubby mitts and find or make something wrong, and this only reinforces my distrust.

I cleared all of our normal stuff out of the van, loaded up my 10 speed mountain bike, and drove the MuffinWagon into town for repair.  On the way back home, it started raining, and I bailed when driving through what appeared to be a puddle.  That left me with some nice road rash on my shoulder and calf, and a HUGE bruise on my hip and bruised my ribs a bit.  Did I mention “ouch?!”  I got up, screamed a few profanities at the birds nearby, and finished my ride.  Later that evening, they had the diagnosis and an estimate for repair of $850.  I acted alarmed at the price, shouting far fewer profanities than the birds experienced, and asked if they had any sort of discounts available: AAA, AARP, veteran’s… ANYTHING.  After the mechanic hemmed and hawed a little bit, he offered a 5% discount, which with taxes and everything brought the price down to around $800.

The next morning, I pedaled my bruised butt back there and picked it up, after dropping off $800 in their custody to repair and replace said harmonic balancer.  So, now we have one deluxe minivan!  And we ended up paying less to fix an actually broken part than was estimated to fix a leak made up by the dealership.

RV Shopping

In staying in the hotels at client sites over the years, I’ve noticed that no one really has the same standards for cleanliness that I do. Combine this with the opportunity to visit and share some of the better places to live while Working on Happy, Princess Muffins and I have started looking at RV’s.  These accommodations will physically pull us out of the dog-eat-dog rat race of the (sub)urban assault, and give us a chance to be a part of the natural world that we were born a part of.  We spent nearly all day looking at different sizes and configurations.  It looks like we’re going for a 30 foot class A.

We (mostly the Princess) are not that eager to participate in stealth camping, so the fact that the Class A looks like a small tour bus doesn’t matter to her.  I like the fact that it’s 1/10 the size of our house of which we’re barely using 90%.  This will allow us to have a place to stay when our McMansion is sold.  Until then, I can stay in it while working at client sites or en route.

Since the 2018 models have recently come out, it looks like we’ll be able to get a “brand new” 2017 with warranty and everything.  But, as a bonus, we’ll take the first year’s “as soon as it rolls off the lot” depreciation right off of our cost by suffering with last year’s model.

Binging for Delta Miles (aka Triple Stacked Dining Deals)

The past week has been quite an effort for me maximize my dining deals.  Here’s my situation: I get a $40 daily meal allowance.  However, I only get reimbursed for as much as I produce receipts. If I fast all week, no one cares – not a “Thank you for saving us money” or “Did you eat anything?  Are you okay?!”  If I spend $40 a day on lattes, no one bats an eye either way.  So, I’ve been thinking… and that’s when things get crazy… Why not max out the benefit to me, personally!?

So, I’ve been working a deal with Delta SkyMiles Dining and Mogl along with whatever coupons I can muster to get miles, and cash back.  So far I’ve eaten every allocated meal this week at a restaurant that provides both SkyMiles and Mogl cash back.  It’s actually been pretty complicated to line up a relevant establishment for each meal type near where I plan to be at that time, while simultaneously maximizing the Mogl rebate amount.  Of course, I put it on my miles-earning card.  After all of that, I get reimbursed for the amount shown on the receipt.

Just as I was binging myself to death with my $30 dines for the maximum bonus dining miles, I realized it made more sense to do my 12 dines to get to VIP status first, so that my final $30 dine would earn 5x miles per dollar, rather than the mere 3x miles of the bourgeois “online member”.

Here’s how I’m doing so far:

Day Coupon Spend Miles Rebate
7/31 None $25 76 $1.78
8/1 None $30 90 (+500) $2.43
8/2 Free chips from joining mailing list $34 104 (+1000) $2.11
8/3 None $9 27* $1.35*
8/5 $5 Welcome Back $25 N/A $2.03
8/7 AARP 10% discount $7 $0.47
8/7 None $9 $0.59
8/7 None $11 33* $0.75
8/8 None $11 33* $0.66
8/8 None $8 24* $0.58
8/8 None $16 48* $2.38
* Award not yet received, but estimated

Overall, it’s actually been difficult for me to spend all $40 every day.  It’s a bit like Brewster’s Millions with food.   I figure I have an annual food budget of about $10k.  If I spend all of it, I get 50,000 bonus miles a year.  If I get an average rebate rate of 10% from Mogl, that mean $1,000 rebated to my credit card every year.

Bald and Free: What would you be willing to do?

Bald and Free: What would you be willing to do?

On my journey of self, one of my first shifts in frugality that has actually stuck with me, was an investment in a nice set of clippers. I never went to fancy salons to get expensive haircuts by any stretch. But when I thought it through, shaving my head was about far more than saving a few dollars on hair cuts.  I usually went to a SuperCuts or Cost Cutters, so it was only $12 or so, before tip (unless I had a coupon). Recognizing that time is money, I had to drive there, wait for my turn, remit payment, and drive home, on top of paying cash for the cut and tip for the worker.

Barber Shop Sign

Barbers? Where we’re going, there won’t be any barbers!

When I started reconsidering my life and thinking about luxuries we might no longer have available if I lived off of savings in (aka “retired to”) the remote parts of Costa Rica or Mexico, I imagined that getting to the barber might be one of those little complications I could do without. I also considered that I might be able to use the money I was spending on haircuts for something more meaningful, so I went for it.

A few things made this easier for me than it might for others:

  1. I am male,
  2. I’m getting old enough that people don’t assume anything weird when I have little hair up top, and
  3. A career I had pursued early in life was as a cosmetologist, so I was familiar with the tools,
  4. Buzzcuts are in… The Rock, Vin Diesel, Patrick Stewart, Bruce Willis, et. al. are all sporting nearly hair-free, carefree, hair styles.

But this change wasn’t just about who cuts my hair, it was also about giving up my attachment to having “nice hair”.   My concern about people’s response to my new lack of hair was holding me back. Once I worked up the courage, I haven’t looked back. I’ve just gone shorter and shorter. I started with a size “4” guard, and now I’m down to a “1”.

Rather than getting a haircut every 8 weeks or so (looking pretty shaggy in those last few weeks), now I have a fresh trim every week. Just put the guard on, and swoosh it all over the noggin until it stop making the “cutty” sound. Every weekend, I touch up my ‘do, and look fresh as a daisy. Once in a while, I’ll notice a spot when rubbing my hand around on my head that maybe I didn’t do so well on and feels longer than the rest. That helps me improve my skills, and I can just go at it with the clippers and fix it in a jiffy.

How much does this really save?

With little hair, I barely use any shampoo and don’t need conditioner at all. My haircuts take about five minutes from the moment I decide I want to do it until it’s done. Rather than feeling an itchy back for a few hours after the cut, I can trim up right before I shower, and all of those itchy bits wash right away.

In hard hair cut savings, I’ve gone from

  • $15 every 8 weeks = $97.50 a year


  • $30 for the trimmers that have lasted 5 years so far

But when you factor in the ease of maintenance, lack of hair products, and time savings… it comes out to a whole lot more.

Metaphor for Minimalism

The reason I share this story is not necessarily with the intent of kicking off a sweeping craze of opt-in baldies like myself.  With this shift in my thinking, the change required, the courage required, and the shift of focus from ego and working to please others to that of attaining peace through minimalism, are representative of many changes you can make to reorient your world from rampant consumerism, keeping up with the Joneses, and other reckless spending.

With the confidence that these changes are okay, and that I’ll be okay after making them, I started making other little changes.  Little changes add up to big dreams getting closer and closer.

What will help you find your happy?

  • A tiny house?
  • To fulltime in your RV?
  • To attain peace in your life?
  • Good health?

No matter what you’re going for, one foot down the path is far better than both up on the sofa.  What small things can or have you done to start down the road to your life goals, that are actually attainable? Share your story in the comments below.








Working On Happy

Working On Happy

Depression… Anger… Sadness… Despair…

Before the pursuit of my “new life”, these were the emotions I endured every day.  I made “good money”, as they say, but I felt empty.  Hundred hour weeks weren’t uncommon. I have a solid technical skill set, a drive to excel, and a mind that lets me process information quickly. Between all of these things, I have always been in demand.  I have never found myself out of work or without opportunity, as so many others appear to have experienced.  Part of my so-called success involved the sacrifice of traveling.  I would go to where the money was, imposing a distance between me and my wife and kids.  When I came back home, friends and family would ask, “So how was Nashville?” (or wherever I went for that particular gig), and I would have no idea.

Angry Bird
Things aren’t all they were cracked up to be for this bird. He needs to work on his happy.

Traveling for work often involved researching a new client, preparing for (or documenting the results of) meetings and presentations, and participating in “mandatory fun” with clients and peers who feel alienated when an invitation to a night on the town is ignored. The crappiest part about the mandatory fun is that, while socially expected of you, you don’t really have a choice in the matter, and certainly you don’t get to bill for that time — after all, this is fun, right?  Having a handler plan 112 hours of your week, while getting paid for 40 of it isn’t fun. It actually sucks, even when you’re paid a lot for those 40.

Extroverts have no idea how draining it is for an introverted person to be drug from one crowded bar to another through the teeming streets of some bustling metropolis in search of the perfect night spot.  I would rather get up at dawn than stay up until its arrival. It’s far quieter then — downright placid.  Even Manhattan at 5am, just as the sun is peeking over the horizon, is a far different beast than she is at 1am, when everyone’s peacocking and strutting, trying to find someone to love, if even for just the evening.

As a result, I would come home from a work trip feeling miserable and exhausted. Between the travel itself on both ends and the 15+ hour days of prepping for then performing the actual work, I had nothing left to give when I got home to my family. I would pretty much pass out once I got home, for nearly the entire weekend, until I had to go off again the next week and repeat the process. I was useless to those for whom I sincerely thought I was working so hard.

What was it all for?  What was I truly gaining?  Money?

Mental Preparation for Happiness

My situation at that time reminds me of this story I heard repeatedly along my travels about a consultant who, while on holiday, stumbles across a fisherman. The consultant imposes his first world perspectives and ideals of success upon the fisherman, only to realize after his circuitous logic fails, that the fisherman is already living his ideal life. This causes the consultant to rethink his life.  This little parable is so commonly used, I can’t remember where I heard it first, but I’ve certainly heard it a few times.  Each time, like some books, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the story can take a different meaning and trigger different insights, depending upon your maturity and context of your existential journey at the time of reading.

Love birds grooming.
It’s important to work. As long as it’s something you love.

It became obvious I was living in a gilded cage. I started searching for an answer to improving my health, my relationship with my wife, and my overall happy.   Was I working too many hours?  Was I working inefficiently?  Should I change my career?  Will working always demand this much of me?  I knew I needed a way out, but I didn’t know exactly what I was doing wrong or how to get “out”.  After all, I still had to make payments on my gilded cage, see my kids through college, and all of the other things for which I was working so much.

Along my journey, I read (through audiobook while driving back and forth across the state to work and school), Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.  Her work really hit home for me, as I was often one of the key producers in an organization or on a project, and there was generally little correlation between effort and reward. These sacrifices were often made in exchange for the perception of safety. In the end, I’m always and only employed at the convenience of my employer/customer.

While I might produce ten times as much as the next person, I was making fractionally more than the lowest paid member of the team.  Imagine working on a help desk, cranking out 25 tickets an hour, while everyone else squeezes out two or three.  In exchange for this production level, rather than any type of reward, imagine receiving  a reprimand to “pace yourself” and even threats from co-workers that if you didn’t slow down, there’s going to be some vigilante justice to impose group norms and protect their jobs.  This situation isn’t all that unusual or uncommon.  If only I could find myself a way to escape to Galt’s Gulch, where everyone worked at their capability and was directly rewarded for their work.  This seemed like part of my ideal life, rather than watching some folks skate by and cash in on the efforts of the few with ideas for working smarter and the wherewithal and downright gumption to make a plan and stick with it until it becomes reality.

Piece this together with a few other books I would read along the way, and my mental kettle was quickly accelerating from tepid to overboil.

The Four Hour Work Week: Again, this book was actually consumed in audiobook form. The first and longest part of the book is about some relatively standard small business “hacks”, if you will. Ultimately, you should stop working “in” your business and start working “on” your business.  It’s good stuff if you’ve never learned these lessons. I’ve grown accustomed to consuming books, blogs, and so forth that merely repeat a thousand things I’ve already heard in hopes of learning one meaningful new tidbit.  Timothy Ferris did not disappoint.  What really struck a chord for me was the “Now What?” section.  I’ll paraphrase a few points that really hit home and made me rethink my path in life:

You’ve done it.  You only need to work four hours a week to keep the money flowing in that allows you to live the life of your dreams.  Now for the hard part, what IS that life?  What do you do, when you can do whatever you want to do?  Ultimately, who are YOU?

One in four couples over 50 divorce (aka grey divorce).  One theory is that their previously divided lives fail to converge successfully with the increased free time that retirement brings. Earlier, the spouses had completely different paths, evolved separately, and specialized in order to succeed at the game of life. While one focused on children, the other on career, and now that’s it’s time to spend time together, they hardly know (or like) one another.

To wrap this up and shorten what might otherwise be a long and arduous tale. My introspective journey went pretty much as follows:

    • Who am I, really?
      • That’s a huge question.  Let’s start with something easier…
    • What do I really enjoy doing with my time?
      • It certainly isn’t “work”, is it?  Admittedly, I enjoy being productive, but I wouldn’t volunteer somewhere just to do my “job”, would I? (more on that later)
    • What would I do if I could do anything I want to with the rest of my life?
      • Travel
        • Hiking
        • Biking
        • Flying
        • Seeing new places
      • Cook
      • Spend quality time with my wife
      • Take pictures of cool stuff
        • Nature
        • Architecture
        • Animals
        • People watching (Is that covered by “animals” already?)
      • Make movies
      • Teach people stuff
    • What’s keeping me from doing those things, even if just a little bit, right now?

Once I got past the hard part (the first three questions), it dawned on me that the biggest hurdle to start doing what I wanted to do and being who I wanted to be, was me.  I just needed to put my mind to it, and start working on these things.  I needed to stop working on “my job”, stop working on “my education”, stop working on “moving up the ladder” and start working on happy.


Grand Tetons
It’s almost within reach. We can see the top of the mountain from where we are now.  Many small steps, and we should make it!

And so I started moving in the right direction… a few years down the road, I see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve had some good times, learned quite a few things, patched up my marriage, and truly believe in my work for a change.

Since one of my life goals is to teach people stuff, I thought I’d start a blog, vlog, or whatever the  kids are doing these days, as a mechanism to integrate all of my life goals.  By sharing what I’ve learned, maybe someone else will begin a similar journey. If just one more person were to start working on happy because of something I did or said, it would make me feel more accomplished than any of the superficial “success” rungs I’ve ever climbed before.

Photo Credits

One of my key aspirations is to express my creativity through capturing the beauty of nature through photography and videography.  All of the photos on this site were taken by me, The Happy Camper.


Because my wife and I still work for our wage slave masters, while I viciously attack the concept of such servitude in this medium, I will use a pen name and refrain from being directly visible in any of the photos or videos.  This is because “the man” isn’t terribly interested in having people work for them who aren’t in it for the “long haul.”  Just as companies can fire someone when it’s right for them, I reserve the right to quit my job when it’s right for me, and would prefer not to gain any unwanted attention from the overlords until then.

My Gear

Starting out:

Current Gear:


Amazon Link Goes Here

Affiliate Links

You can help me achieve my dream purchasing any products you would normally buy from Amazon using my affiliate link. The Amazon Affiliate program allows content producers (like me) to earn a small commission for any customers referred to Amazon.  The cool thing is that the customers don’t pay any more for their purchases than they normally would. This allows viewers and readers to help support content creators without incurring any extra expense.

Thank you for your support of my happy! Any money that I earn from these ads, whether from advertising or Amazon Affiliate sales, allows me to focus more on creating content and take my steps to escape from wage slavery.

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