A Tale of Two Cars

After 9 years of working as traveling Physical Therapists together, my wife and I have found cars a lot of interesting ways. When we started traveling, we would each drive a car cross country to get where we were going, but in time found road trips were a lot easier when we shared the driving in one car. This has led to us buying a lot of random vehicles on Craigslist when we arrive at our destinations… and later selling them on Craigslist. Throw in a handful of assignments in the 49th and 50th states, and the resume of vehicles we have owned is, from my viewpoint, impressive: A 1984 Chevy RV in AK, a VW Passat in Hawaii that broke down within 2 weeks, a subsequent 3-month rental car in Hawaii, and a Honda Civic in Maine that the entire exhaust system fell off of gradually piece-by-piece to be collected in the trunk and eventually sold to the next owner – so many memories too: the power back window of a 97 4Runner (best SUV feature ever), the Camry with the cockroach infestation, strapping 2 kayaks right onto the roof of that same roach-infested Camry, and living-in/maintaining/improving a camper all last summer back East on Martha’s Vineyard.

I take any opportunity I can to share pictures of the camper we lived in last summer. The ends pop-out, so our living space was slightly larger than it appears here. We'd eventually set-up a tent room on the deck and made it look a lot more homey too.

I take any opportunity I can to share pictures of the camper we lived in last summer. The ends pop-out, so our living space was slightly larger than it appears here. We’d eventually set-up a tent room on the deck and made it look a lot more homey too.

There’s so many vehicles, homes, and vehicle-homes, I can’t even remember each one. For now, I do want to share the two very different stories of the two vehicles we have right now in Hawaii.

We were working in our usual winter jobs in Colorado when we secured our jobs way out here in the Aloha State. Having worked previously on the rural island we’re currently on, we knew we wanted to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. It can be tough to get a decent 4×4 here, because everyone who has one drives it into the ground. Lucky for us, we already owned the perfect vehicle for the trip. Our 2007 Toyota Highlander (“McLeod” – there can only be one Highlander), has been an awesome car, but we’ve started to pull more and more toys that are above its towing capacity. A Highlander is a great SUV offering a comfortable ride and good handling on rough road and in the snow, but it is definitely not meant to tow campers over 12,000 ft mountain passes – and we like to do that sort of thing. So, it was decided, McLeod would come to Hawaii with us, we would enjoy having a 4-wheel drive vehicle to access the off-the-grid mountains and beaches. We hope to sell McLeod here at the end of of our time in Hawaii – he will live out his retirement years in the islands. We will then return to Colorado and buy a truck.

A lot of research went into the logistics of getting McLeod over to Hawaii from Colorado. We (Kate actually) learned a lot about the vehicle shipping business. We have friends who shipped a car from Colorado to Florida for about $800 a few years ago, which sounds very reasonable to me – I’ve recently heard similar prices from other travelers. There’s a lot of different ways to try to find a good deal for shipping the car cross country. You can ship by rail which I think offers the best deals, but seems to be inhibited by the time it can consume in transit and the need to drop off and pick-up the vehicle at a major hub. It’s not unusual to have a narrow window of time to drop the car off with several weeks wait to receive your car on the other end. Shipping the car by truck is more common and, in theory, easier, but is didn’t mesh with our schedule.  The way the trucking system works is that the shipping companies you contact simply act as brokers between you and the truck drivers. You set a price you are willing to pay as a bid, and truck drivers are able to accept or negotiate the price – there are numbers available to give you an idea of what a typical car transport from, in this case, Aspen to San Diego might cost. Basically, you submit a bid and if there’s a driver headed West that likes the price and wants to swing by and pick up your car, they will accept. Also, if you live in an isolated place, you can offer to bring your car to a place closer to a major highway and this will cost you less as it’s more likely to be on the driver’s route. Because of this arrangement, you can find a trucker to take your car on pretty short notice. It’s a great system, except that you frequently don’t know exactly what day the driver will show up to take the car, and you need to have someone available to drop off the car and then receive the car on the other end. For us, it just didn’t work. We only had one week between work in Colorado and work in Hawaii and needed to dump the car quickly and get out to Hawaii.

Last year, we were leaving Colorado and wanted both cars back in New England. But, we wanted to share the driving. Our solution was McLeod towing our un-named Celica on a U-Haul dolly. I'll never do this again. The dolly made such a racket, and we couldn't pull off the highway in any cities where parking might be an issue - might not sound that bad, but, trust me, it was pretty awful.

Last year, we were leaving Colorado and wanted both cars back in New England. But, we wanted to share the driving. Our solution was McLeod towing our un-named Celica on a U-Haul dolly. I’ll never do this again. The dolly made such a racket, and we couldn’t pull off the highway in any cities where parking might be an issue – might not sound that bad, but, trust me, it was pretty awful.

We eventually set a plan to drive to San Diego and ship McLeod from California out to Hawaii on a boat – it costed us about $1000 to Honolulu, another $400 for the transfer to the island we’re currently working on – reasonable as far as I’m concerned. A few days before we were set to wrap up work in Colorado and get on the road, our boat was cancelled (with our money already paid), and an alternate boat had to be scheduled. We ended up having to leave a little early and make a sprint straight from our last day of work in Colorado on a Saturday to San Diego for a Monday car drop off. We ended making the trip with time to spare and saw some of the South West which I truly haven’t seen a whole lot of. Then, we were off to Hawaii! Unfortunately, the car would take 3 weeks in transit, so we had to come up with another way to get around the island in the meantime.

We had considered having a second vehicle – for the time until McLeod arrived and for the occasional times we would want a second vehicle. Maybe just a moped or dirt-bike would do for traveling the short island distances. There’s some rental cars available on the island, but they would cost us $200-$300 for each week we had to wait for McLeod to arrive. By some stroke of fate, it turned out the PT traveler before us had been driving a car around for the last 7 months that he wanted to sell for $1000. Honestly, I didn’t need to hear anything else – a $1000 car that drives? Sold.

I spoke with the traveler on the phone about buying the car, a 1982 Cutlass Supreme. The traveler was a real relaxed guy who I would later get to know personally – he clearly fits in with with the island lifestyle. Side note, he would explain to me, “I like to get in the ocean at least twice a day.” He had bought the car for $2000 from a traveling RN, and after his 7 months of use, he felt he had gotten his monies-worth out of it, and he was willing to let it go for 1000 bucks. He had no trouble with car, it always started up. The windshield wipers could occasionally get stuck in the on position on a sunny day which could be embarrassing, but other than that, it was a great buy for $1000. The travel PT had told me that the car only had 25,000 miles on it, “after all, it’s been on an island its whole life”. Upon further investigation, there is no 6th digit on the odometer of this car, so who knows how many times it has been past the 100,000 mile mark. But this 1982 Cutlass Supreme does drive. It likes to go. It’s a Brougham edition – I’m not totally sure what that means, I think Brougham might be the company that did the interior of the car (upholstered front bench seat and all) – naturally we have named him “Brougham”.

Jai, the previous travel PT still trying to sell me Brougham, even as I'm returning from getting cash out of the ATM. Awesome car.

Jai, the previous travel PT still trying to sell me Brougham, even as I’m returning from getting cash out of the ATM. Awesome car.

Brougham has been a blast. Great beach/island car with real street cred. We know the local guy who originally owned the car for its first 20-or-so years. He occasionally stops me in the middle of traffic in town to harass me about taking care of the car. It floats like a boat around corners and over speed bumps – Brougham is pretty awesome. I was able to restore some original glory through re-attaching the hood ornament and some of the original insignias to the trunk that had fallen off over years due to rust and who-knows-what else.

After about 2 weeks of work, McLeod finally rolled in on the Monday barge – barges come on Monday and Thursday with all the supplies for the island, including everything you could end up buying at a store. The barge is a nice reminder of what an isolated place we live in, how all packaged food and supplies come from somewhere, and that the waste we produce has to go somewhere as well. McLeod has been the 4-wheel drive beach-and-mountain-mobile we have needed him to be. It’s also nice to have A/C on an 80 degree day. Even with McLeod here and offering a smooth, cooled ride, Brougham has not sat idle long. The Cutlass Supreme is just a fun car to drive and gets us enough puzzled looks that we take it out frequently.

We hope to extend this contract for another 13 week stint before returning to Colorado for the winter. If for some reason we can’t extend, then we need to get For Sale signs on these cars soon and let the cycle start over again. When we get back to Colorado, we’ll be looking to buy a truck – preferably something from this decade with some good towing capacity. Until then, McLeod and Brougham will keep driving us in circles around this island, up in the mountains and down to the beaches. I suspect we’ll create some good memories of each of these vehicles between now and then.

Aloha! See you out on the open road!


Feast or Famine

When we last left off (Just Go With It – 5/9/14), I was headed 3,000 miles west out to Hawaii with the verbal assurance that there would be work when I arrived, but without anything in writing. Would there be work when I reached the islands? Would I be a kept man depending on my wife to bring home the bacon? Exactly how much snorkeling can one unemployed PT do in 13 weeks?

After some flip-flopping* back and forth, the work seems like it’s coming. In fact, I think I’ll have too much work in 2-3 weeks.

I arrived here 6 days ago, on Friday night. Luckily, the day before, my employment packet and job offer arrived in the mail from a private practice I have been speaking with. So, I learned how much I was going to be paid hourly if I worked, but had no guarantee of any hours. All there was to do was to get my feet on the ground in Hawaii and hope for the best.

O'hana Papaya

Papaya from the back yard garden! Included in the garden are the following trees that I can identify: 4 papaya trees, 2 mango trees, a hot pepper tree, and a coconut bearing palm tree.

When we arrived, we spent the weekend Craigslisting to find an apartment and a cheap car for the next three months. We found an awesome o’hana apartment! O’hana is the Hawaiian word for family, they call what we know as a mother-in-law apartment an o’hana. Because this island is essentially a big volcano with the top portion sticking out of the ocean, everything is on a hillside, and, therefor, everything has an ocean view. Our ocean view mother-in-law apartment is quite the pad – it also has a pool and a fruit-bearing garden in the backyard. Bugs, mostly cockroaches, are simply a fact of life in Hawaii. When we were out here a few years back, I had an old Toyota Camry with a roach problem. This time around, I have upgraded to a Toyota 4-Runner with a roach problem. I think bigger cars come with bigger roach problems…  back to the contract story.

I didn’t have any wok scheduled for this past Monday, so after dropping Kate off at her job, I popped in to visit the contract manager at the community hospital who I’ve been talking with about setting up an agency contract. All I had heard at this point was “we will need you, we will have work for you.” When I arrived on Monday, the story had changed, “It sounds like we may not need you at all,” says the contract manager. Uh oh, I was depending on there being work when I got out here. So, my efforts were refocused on the independent contract with the private practice. Originally I had told them I would be available Mon/Wed/Fri with the hopes of filling in at the hospital on Tues/Thurs, but with the changes in what I was hearing from the hospital, I offered to work all five days per week at the private practice. Right now, I don’t have a lot of appointments scheduled, but I can see how after evaluations are performed, and a few days go by, the schedule will grow considerably into a full 30-40 hours of work. This one private practice job should be just fine.

This morning, I heard from my recruiter on the hospital job, “James, call me when you wake up, I have good news.” The hospital changed their tune – census is up, and they need some extra help. At this time, I’m feeling conflicted about what to do. The private practice is bending over backwards to accommodate me and to try and fill my schedule. At this time, there’s not a very full schedule, but a couple weeks will fix that – unfortunately, they aren’t will to guarantee any hours. The hours patients are there with me are the only hours I get paid. On the other hand, the gig with the agency at the hospital will pay more and there may be a couple days worth of guaranteed hours.


The roach mobile, o’hana in the background!

When it rains, it pours. I’m currently working about 10 hours this week with a long-weekend quick approaching, it’s been a nice break, but I need to get back to consistent work. On the horizon, I can potentially expect 60+ hours of work any given week. While the thought of bearing down, working long hours, and stacking up piles of cash is appealing to me, I’m in paradise (again) for 3 months, and I’m not going to blow it by working indoors 60 hours a week.

For now, it’s back to waiting. I’ll have to see what the hospital really wants from me before I commit to anything. If they do guarantee hours, the decisions will get difficult – will I choose the higher paying guaranteed hours? Or will I stick by the practice who has not guaranteed me any hours, but has been good to me thus far?

Time will tell, for now it’s back to researching which beach to camp on for my 3+ day weekend.

Happy Memorial Day! Aloha!

*In Hawaii, flip-flops are called slippahs. example: Take ya slippahs off when ya come in da house, brah.


I buy and sell a ton of stuff on Craigslist. If you’ve never been on the site, but know only of the more dubious publicity it has received, I’m here to tell you, “Craigslist is safe, and you probably won’t get kidnapped.” But seriously, I’ve met nothing but nice and honest people during my Craigslist transactions. To sweeten the pot, you can find fantastic deals on just about anything. There’s a blog-turned-book by a Canadian guy demonstrating the general goodwill of people and the good finds of Craiglist. Kyle MacDonald traded one large red paperclip up to a house in 14 even trades over the course of a year! Check it out at his website: One Red Paper Clip

Bottom line, Craigslist and a bunch of other online sites are a great way for you to find things you need on assignment for cheap and sell them when you’re done with them. In some areas, Craiglist isn’t necessarily the go-to site, there may be a better, local option – think about classifieds on the local paper’s webpage. In Maine, I’ve found that Craigslist has a good local popularity, but there’s also Uncle Henry’s, a long-time printed buy-and-sell listing that is now available online. If you’re on assignment near a military base, there’s a good chance someone has set-up a Facebook page to buy, sell, and trade on and around the base.

Here’s my hit-list of the best ways I have used the internet to barter for things I need on assignment:


My very first travel assignment, I had the staffing agency set me up with my housing. It was a great way to get out there on the road and do the traveling without having to worry about lodging. As I’ve gotten more comfortable over the years with how travel PT works, I’ve gotten better at finding my own housing.

The tough part is, and has always been, finding a place that is: (a.) Furnished; and (b.) available for a short lease. I’m yet to find something that has more in this niche market than Craigslist. Type in furnished and the town you are headed to, and you are bound to have a couple good leads on your pad for the next 13 weeks.


AirBnB.com is a newer site that allows people to rent out their places privately. I haven’t yet stayed in a place I found on Air BnB, but have heard of people getting great deals on this site. Depending on your tolerance to being a complete vagabond, you can find anything from a futon to crash on for a night in someone’s living room to a house all to yourself for the length of the assignment. The site allows you to filter your search well to fit your needs and displays ratings from people who have previously stayed at the crash-pad you may be considering.


For my wife and I, we find it very difficult to take long road trips in separate cars. Two drivers in one car allows us to drive longer hours in a day and travel more safely and comfortably. Our solution is to drive one car to our assignment and buy a car when we get there. This also works well in places you may fly into to work like Alaska or Hawaii. We have bought six cars on Craigslist and one RV… only one deal ended poorly. My wife ended up selling a beat up Passat for $200 and a bag of mangoes – true story. More often than not, we are able to sell the car at the end of the assignment for more than we bought it for. Speaking of which, anyone looking for a 1997 Honda Civic in Maine? With only 208,000 miles on it, it’s a steal at $1200.

Hawaii Car

Putting the car I bought on Craigslist in Hawaii to good use. Not the Passat. Put a kayak on it!

The car I’m typically looking at is $3,000 to $5,000, but I have gone cheaper at times, like with the Civic. Two things I can recommend are to ask lots of questions, people are typically willing to be perfectly honest, and take the test drive into serious consideration. On that one deal that went south in Hawaii (the Passat and the mangoes), there were clear signs during the test drive that we shouldn’t buy the car, but got so wrapped up in the mentality of “we need a car now” that we ignored the lousy shifting and ended up transmissionless 2 weeks later.

With with all things bought online, but particularly with cars: BARTER! Everybody on Craigslist is listing their stuff for a bit more than they would actually take to let go of it. Find out how little money they will take!


I have this buddy who used to be a traveler, but fell in love with a dietitian on assignment. Now, they are married and have a great house in a cool neighborhood. This guy buys everything on Craigslist and isn’t afraid to walk away from anything but a spectacular deal. I was visiting him a few weeks ago and as I walk into his kitchen he’s really ( I mean REALLY) excited and blurts out, “Guess how much all the appliances in this kitchen cost!” This guy has gotten a full top-of-the line kitchen for chump change including a killer oven, fridge, and microwave.

As a traveler, you can’t get too weighed down with larger appliances, but any furnished apartment is going to be lacking something you need – a toaster, a microwave, a grill, a decent coffee pot. Hop online, see what’s available. You can typically get good stuff so cheap that if it doesn’t fit in the car at the end of the assignment, it won’t hurt to part ways with it.


One of the Craigslist surfboards… just remembered that a teenage girl sold it to me. Hence the neon green ankle strap.


I don’t have a ton of toys. They take up a lot of space in small apartments, and it’s much easier to travel light. But, come on, there’s some stuff you just need. In Hawaii, I bought a surfboard at the beginning of the 6 month assignment and bought a second board halfway through. I surfed three days a week on these boards, used the heck out of them, and was able to break even by selling them on Craigslist when it was time to leave.

In Colorado, it’s ski and camping equipment. For anyone who spends significant time doing outdoor sports, you know there’s always something better, stronger, more light-weight, more durable, and better than what you have. I have also found that the upgrade doesn’t need to be brand new. There is a huge marketplace online for gently-used gear. There’s a slew of auction sites like Ebay that will do the trick if you know exactly what you want, but if it’s something you need to get the right size or fit, you’ll probably find yourself right back on Craigslist finding someone local that you can meet, take a good look at what they’re trying to sell, and come to a price that leaves both of you feeling like you ripped the other person off. And when you’ve worn out whatever it is you bought, there’s someone out there on the internet looking for that very thing who is willing to give you money for your worn out junk. What’s more American than that!? Happy bartering and safe travels!


I had written this a couple months back for another travel website, so it needs some updates:

-The Civic sold 3 days after being posted on Craigslist.

-Using Craigslist, we found and bought a car that we hope will last us for the next several years. It has a small dent on the bumper, but got it for thousands less than we would have at a dealer.

-We started a new assignment around Boston this week. Found an awesome apartment just outside the city, across the street from the beach… on Craigslist.