Rain, rain go away.
That’s what I found myself singing a lot at the start of week 3 of our USA road trip with Goldie and the Beast.
For two weeks, we’ve mostly had rain and snow. It’s amazing how quickly you can get cabin fever and your mood can plummet due to inclement weather.
Not wanting to make the seven hour drive in one day, and wanting to delay our arrival into NOLA so we could make some later scheduled Christmas events, we stopped off into Birmingham, Alabama for three nights.
Although, we haven’t visited Birmingham before, and I was tempted to explore, I had to pull the reins in so I could catch up and get work done.
Birmingham is close enough to Raleigh – our eventual home – that we can come back to explore it properly.
My priority now is to finish some projects I am working on so that by the time we hit Texas and the Western side of the country, I’ll have more time to explore and won’t be back pedaling.
So my time at Birmingham was spent working inside Goldie away from the rain, or shopping at Target and Walmart for Christmas presents.
We did find time to put the Christmas tree up in the van. I’ll have a post later about how we manage Christmas in an RV as I’ve had a few people ask. A 4 ft tree fits in Goldie nicely.
We have our ornaments that the girls made in Huntsville plus the extras we purchased.
As we were driving in to New Orleans and struggling to find a decent campground for kids, I began regretting our decision to come to New Orleans for Christmas.
The campsite right near the French Quarter was $130 a night!! Cheap compared to hotels but outrageous for a concrete slab.
I get it though, it’s New Orleans and walking distance to the French Quarter.
I started fearing how NOLA would blow our budget. Impatience then kicked in. We could be over in Texas instead, visiting places we haven’t been and moving quicker through the Western part of the country so I can be back in Raleigh within the year.
I still have a way to go before I completely slip into this relaxed, free, RV lifestyle.
The Buffalo Wild Wings we stopped in at in Alabama on the way for a quick take out of wings to feed the starving masses, ended up taking an hour!!!
So I was more frustrated as we were going to miss the Carols by Candle light in Jackson Square that I had only heard about that morning thanks to an Instagram tip from a follower.
The luck didn’t seem to be going our way.
Thanks to more tips from our community we ended up finding a campsite on Lake Pontchartrain about 15-minutes drive from the French Quarter for a better price, yet still expensive for a
concrete gravel slab.
We quickly unhitched and raced into Jackson Square.
We only missed about 10-minutes of the carols. As soon as we lighted our candles and the girls eagerly grabbed the song book to sing along to the lyrics I realized our choice was good one.
This was a moment with my girls. Only days previously I spoke to them about what Christmas was really about. To them it’s Santa Claus and presents.
Even though we aren’t of any particular religion, I do think if you are going to celebrate a religious tradition, you should understand the real meaning of it.
The carols by candlelight gave them a little connection to this. A space to talk about hope and peace and love.
It reminded me of how much I loved Christmas when I was little. I loved the carols – singing them at school events and watching them on TV. In Australia, carols by candlelight is a big tradition – we have the weather for it.
So it was lovely to be in that environment again with my girls. It was a moment with them we’ll remember for a long time.
We were due to leave New Orleans on the 21st but found out friends were coming into town the next day.
Can you stay an extra day so we can see you for breakfast?
Sure. That would be awesome! We ended up having breakfast at Cake Cafe & Bakery – don’t miss their crab omelettes and specialty cup cakes – great local spot!!
The rush to get moving that I felt only hours ago disappeared as I realized the value of this lifestyle we have now chosen.
I have no constraints, no demands, no schedules. I can move at a whim. I can decide to stay an extra day if it means connecting with people I care about and having those richer experiences.
Perhaps this RV lifestyle is rubbing off on me more quickly than I realized. Perhaps it will go longer than 1 year after all.
What we did in New Orleans
We were in NOLA earlier this year to attend Mardi Gras. (read how to enjoy Mardi Gras with kids here). We did a fair bit of exploring then.
On this trip, we specifically wanted to experience Christmas in New Orleans. We have a video coming soon showcasing the NOLA Christmas spirit.
It was a lot of fun and felt more like an Australian Christmas to me than any other place I’ve been. I think that is because of the strong catholic influence in New Orleans, which is my upbringing.
I love how they celebrate more in NOLA though – morning mimosas is a good thing right?!
As mentioned, we kicked it off with Christmas carols in Jackson Square, one of the prettiest areas in New Orleans.
We loved looking at the Christmas decorations everywhere and attending the Audubon Zoo lights, Miracle on Fulton Street, Celebration in the Oaks in City Park, and Christmas FEST at the Convention Center.
Houmas House in the New Orleans Plantation area was decorated beautifully in Christmas decorations. We’ve done tours of many Southern homes before and this was one of my favorite.
Those oak trees. I could have stayed all day staring at them (and cuddling them).
It was just a shame that it was raining all day. I’d love to see that sun shining through the branches of the giant oaks.
I just want this property and those trees for my own.
The Houmas House tour was part of our New Orleans Sightseeing Pass. We also had Laura Plantation and Oak Alley recommended to us. We plan to return to visit the New Orleans Plantations. You can do a tour of those plantations here.
We also attended a theater production of A Christmas Carol at the Le Petit Theater which was wonderful.
Then we did a few other New Orleans attractions using our sightseeing pass, such as a French Quarter walking tour, a hop on hop off bus tour, Mardi Gras World, and a steamboat jazz dinner cruise. See more of what is included in the pass here.
Leave room in your budget for New Orleans food
One of our favorite things to do in New Orleans is to eat. It has the BEST food in the country: Creole, Cajun, French, gumbo, jambalaya, rice and beans and modern, innovative fine dining.
We always spend a lot of money in New Orleans on food because it is so unique and different. That’s why we say, stay in the $67 a night campground instead of the $130 – more money for food.
So be sure to budget for food experiences when you visit New Orleans it is definitely a highlight.
You can read our best places to eat in New Orleans for ideas. We’re updating it with some new restaurants we discovered.
It’s so good that Kalyra knows the Brennan family and their restaurants (legends of New Orleans food) and when we found out we were going to dinner at Dickie Brennan’s Tableau in the French Quarter she screamed, skipped and leg kicked.
That girl has fancy tastes. She’d want to start writing more blog posts for us so she can pay for the lavish lifestyle she desires.
An equal reaction occurred when we walked into Café Du ‘Monde for beignets (several times over our week stay). Even I indulged (I can’t eat gluten) and I can tell you they were divine!! And they are super cheap – only $2.95 for three.
They pair nicely with their equally cheap black chicory coffee – a NOLA tradition.
You know you’re in New Orleans when even the buffet food on an evening Mississippi cruise is melt in your mouth delicious. That brisket!
Thankfully, I was able to go for thirds.
- It takes a long time to pack up and move. I’m searching for ways to be more organized so we can make the process quicker. Generally, the biggest time drain is cleaning the inside of the van and packing everything away. We don’t have too much out but the full clean takes time. I’ve been having just a bowl of cereal on moving day, so I’m not spending time cooking eggs and then cleaning up after them.
- Driving times take so much longer than Google Maps says. We almost missed the caroling in Jackson Square because the drive to New Orleans from Birmingham took 7 hours instead of 5. Some of that was connected to the awfully slow service and an order messed up at Buffalo Wild Wings. A quick take out stop took an hour. Never again.
- Which leads me to my next point. Time to be more organized with good food in the car for long road trips. I’m finding it really challenging to manage everything on the road and so doing this takes a back seat. I’m going to move this up the priority list as we ended up spending more, wasting more time, AND eating shitty, unhealthy food!
- Maintaining a workout routine is difficult when the weather is bad and we’re busy exploring a city like NOLA. I’ve had almost a week without exercise and I don’t like it. At least we walked a lot in New Orleans but it’s not to compensate for all the indulging.
- Internet is proving to be a problem. We’re spending a fortune, once again, AND Verizon wasn’t so clear on how mobile internet works. I’ve certainly figured it out now that I’ve just received notification that I’ve reached my limit for the month. 15 GB. Except I have a plan that is 75GB, purposefully chosen for that much.
Oh and get this – unlimited Wi-Fi plans in the US is utter bullshit. There is a limit, i.e. 75GB and when you reach that, they throttle you so basically all you can do is check email.
Anyway, so there is actually a limit for how much you can use when you tether – i.e. 15 GB. Wasn’t told this!!
It’s impossible to get large data GB on your jetpack or hotspot device. We can only get 20GB max. So in order to access the 75 GB from my phone I need to tether it to my laptop.
No creating a blog post and doing what we do on the phone is fucking impossible. So I’m only 12 days into my monthly cycle and already maxed out.
It’s going to take some time for me to figure out how to make this work. I’m going to have to do as much as I can on my phone – yuck and use the tethering for desktop only work.
Such a hassle.
Oh and I was tethering to our Amazon Firestick to watch Netflix. Won’t be doing that anymore.
The campsite WiFi’s are hit and miss. I’ve been able to stream Netflix through some of them, but our current campsite in NOLA – the most expensive so far – you can’t even check your emails on it.
Where we stayed in New Orleans, LA
Finding a campground in New Orleans was not easy. Most are not family-friendly and are in unsafe neighborhoods (as the reviews say).
There are a lot of unsafe neighborhoods in New Orleans. Don’t panic, you’ll be fine here, just stick to the main tourist areas.
The campgrounds are also expensive.
There are some state parks across the river recommended to us by several of our community, They sounded great, but there was no internet connection and we’re behind in work and need it.
We ended up choosing Pontchartrain Landing as seeming like the best of the rest for what we needed.
It’s on the lake and marina. The gravel sites are clean and level.
Apart from that, it’s waaaaaayyy overpriced. $62 a night and $67 on a weekend.
The internet is non-existent and there is only one shower stall in the one bathroom, which has been so dirty each time we’ve visited.
We get it. It’s camping lifestyle. We know campground bathrooms well after 18-months around Australia.
But at $62 a night I want something as great as what we just got at the State Park in Huntsville for only $35 a night.
It’s all comparative and relative, but I just want you to know. Camping in New Orleans – you’ll pay for it!
It’s about 15-minute drive to the French Quarter which is pretty good. You do drive in on a bit of a goat track and through a dodgy looking area to get to the campground. Full of abandoned warehouses on the water – looks like the setting of a CSI New Orleans episode.
Some of our costs for attractions were covered by Visit New Orleans and The Sightseeing Pass.
To help you, I have added in what some of the attractions would have cost us and denoted it with an asterisk.
- Fuel: $163
- Parking: $50
- Camping: $400
- A Christmas Carol: $102* (for family of four, including movie)
- Sightseeing Pass: 3 day pass for 2 adults + 2 children: $409*
- Christmas Fest: $20 each*
- Audubon Zoo Lights: $15 each*
- Celebration in the Oaks: $10 per person*
- 3 x unlimited ride passes at Celebration in the Oaks: $54 ($18 each)
- Tips: $80 –– so many of these to hand out this week.
- Restaurants: $242
- Coffee: $90 (The coffee expenses often include hot chocolates for the girls or a treat like beignets, so it’s not all on coffee!)
- Groceries: $252
- Take out: $76
- Alcohol: $100
We eat a mostly whole foods, organic diet, which means our grocery bills are higher than what would be typical.
Don’t forget with eating out costs, tip will be included in the prices below.
RV supplies and living
- Laundry: $16 (washing sheets and towels bumped up the costs this week)
Total paid by us: $ 1,428
Ouch. Doing this each week is quite painful as I realize how much we spend on indulgences like coffee and eating out.
As I said in my lessons above, a lot of this comes from disorganization and not having much available time to be better prepared. Plus, New Orleans is a foodie city so we definitely planned on spending more on food.
I’m looking forward to heading West to the wide open skies where the temptation to eat out is less, and I know the coffee won’t be worth spending money on!
My regret is the Jazz Dinner cruise. It wasn’t as great as I was expecting. The jazz was pretty low key and I thought that would be the main event.
Even though the cost of the paddlewheeler was part of the Sightseeing Pass, we upgraded to the dinner, and while delicious, I don’t think it was worth the high price the Paddle wheeler ended up costing us, especially when you throw in the cost of a bottle of wine it was about $100 extra in upgrade price!
So either just do the cruise with no food and drinks. OR just skip it all together.
How we’ve saved money in NOLA
- Park at The Basin Welcome Center. $5 for 10 hours, $10 for 24. Absolute bargain. Before we knew this we parked near the French Quarter (as we were running late) $22 for three hours! Be sure to download the parking app. Soooo handy. You can easily top up from wherever you are instead of racing back. I also loved how you could come and go out of this parking lot. It helped us maximize our time and reduce our costs. However, when we went to park there on a Friday night the price had doubled. I couldn’t find at what time the prices change. See if you can and use your app to book your parking time before that change over!
- Happy Hours. We’ve randomly stumbled upon them. $4 21 oz drafts at the German Biehouse – that’s local craft brew. $3 gourmet tacos at The Rum House on Taco Tuesday in the Garden District. They were some of the best tacos I’ve had. And wait for this one, $1.50 pints of craft brew at Theo’s Pizza place on Magazine Street on a Tuesday. Yes. That’s local IPA. Pair it with a delicious pizza on a Tuesday and you’ve got a happy traveler.
- The Sightseeing Pass – we work with the Sightseeing Pass often as they are so great for saving money. They gave us passes to use in NOLA. If you intend on visiting a lot of attractions here, like Mardi Gras World, WWII Museum, and A French Quarter walking tour, it will save you money.
- Entry to the Science Museum in Birmingham was free thanks to our reciprocal museum annual membership we purchased through Marbles – our local Raleigh Kids Museum. (The ASTC Travel Passport Program)
Where to Next
We’ve just pulled out of New Orleans and are headed for Texas Hill Country.
We’ll be staying there for at least a week to give us time to enjoy Christmas in Goldie, catch up on work, explore a little and rest.
After that will be Big Bend National Park.