Probably the number one question people think of, but are afraid to ask, is what does traveling full time cost. Some people believe we won the lottery or are simply rich. The reality is we are NOT rich nor have we won the lottery (would be nice though). Our lifestyle is achieved by trading the cost of typical living expenses (stick/brick home) with on the road living expenses. In this post I will try to give some details of what it cost to live on the road and how you may find that it could actually be less than your paying now. Of course, expenses on the road depend on all kinds of variables. While one family could spend $100K per year on the road another family could do it for $20K. It all depends on how you budget and lifestyle.
Before we left we did a complete budget to estimate what living this way would cost. I highly recommend this to anyone considering this lifestyle. We are very fortunate to have a small business that allows us to work remotely. But many people choose to do this on their savings. Either way, do a budget and research all the expenses.
One of the biggest expenses in traveling will be the RV you live in. You can travel in a travel trailer costing $10K or a Prevost bus costing over $1M. It all depends on the space you need and what you can afford. If you finance say an RV costing $35K your payment over 15 years would be about $280/month. Add a truck payment of a couple hundred a month and you would still have about a third of what a typical house payment is. If you do as we did and sell your stick and brick house then you might be able to purchase the RV and truck ( or motorhome) and have no monthly expense for housing. Remember that RV’s depreciate rapidly so keep that in mind if you are not intending on keeping if for many years. The rule of thumb is that they lose half their value in the first 5 years. So purchasing used is always a good idea.
So as for your housing it is very much dependent on what you want to live in. Just remember that your only looking at 200-400 sq. ft. which for us is just perfect and part of the reason we sold our home.
When you own a normal home you have water, sewer, electric, cable/satellite and other monthly bills. When traveling full time you exchange most of these bills for campground fees. Now here is where you really have to make decisions on how much you can afford to spend. We have paid as little as $0/night (my mom’s driveway or Wal-Mart) to $118/night in Key West, FL. The average is around $35 – $45/night if you stay in a campground with amenities. If you stay weekly, monthly or seasonal you can save a lot more. In the off season you can usually stay for less as the campgrounds are not very busy. For example, the campground we stayed at in New Hampshire we paid $190/week ($27/night) in peak season. In the winter and fall in Asheville we were paying around $500/month ($17/night) in the campground we were at. If you work hard you can find places to dry camp for free or find discounted State/National Parks to camp at. I know of one family that travels and hardly never pay for campground fees. Most campgrounds will charge more if they have amenities like cable, pool, internet, lake or mountain views, etc.
We have recently purchased a couple campground memberships which have greatly reduced our camping expense. We can now stay in nice RV resorts around the country for $10/night or $70/week. Over a month that is only $280/month. Less if you throw in a few free Wal-Mart nights.
We are currently trying to average under $20/night for our campsite. In the summer we will pay more but make up for it in the off season. This will normally average more than your home utilities but you are making up some by not having the house payment. Plus you get different neighbors and backyard whenever you want it. Don’t forget no grass to mow, large home to clean and all the other things it takes to manage a typical home.
Once again this depends on how you are going to travel. If you move a large motorhome every few days it will cost more than if you sit in the same spot for weeks or months at a time. We typically move every week but do not move far. Our fuel expense has been way below what we had budgeted so far. This will probably change as we move west were things are a little farther apart. With a motorhome expect about 6-8 miles/gallon and 8-12 miles/gallon if you are towing with a truck. As of the writing of this post fuel is about $2.60/gallon. We get around 8 miles/gallon so every 8 miles cost us $2.60. Last year when fuel was $4-$5/gallon most people were staying in one place longer than they normally would have.
The fuel usage for your toad or towing vehicle will depend on how much sightseeing you are doing. We are actually using less fuel now because we are not driving two cars everyday to work as we were before.
Food and Sightseeing
The one place that will kill your budget is eating out. We were actually very bad for this before leaving on this journey. We knew we could not do this while on the road. Therefore, we have a dining out budget that we try to stick to pretty close. If we are out of budget we will be eating sandwiches. We also try not to eat at chain restaurants and stick with local places. We also save a lot of money by not ordering drinks in restaurants. This saves us around $8/meal since many places are charging over $2/drink now (even for kids).
When you travel to tourist areas everybody is trying to make a buck. When you are on vacation you just pay for the overpriced admission and expensive snacks. We typically pass on all this stuff. We don’t do theme parks or anything close to them. We look for free parks, bike trails, swimming holes, free museums, etc. If there is an admission we think really hard about if it is worth it or not. We are currently way below our sightseeing budget which is very good. Believe it or not the kids have been fine with not hitting all the big tourist areas. A pool and playground and they are happy. Also for $80/year you get access to all the National Parks for free. You could spend an entire year doing nothing but them.
The Other Stuff
There are always other stuff that you have to pay for. Medical expenses, RV and auto maintenance, mobile phones, propane (mainly in winter), taxes, etc. Most of these are just facts of life and will be paid for no matter where you live. All these things we have in our budget and track monthly.
The Bottom Line
The reality is that this is not a lifestyle that people do forever. Most people find that it can be cheaper but then others spend more as they are in “vacation mode” and spend money freely. The memories and adventure that is created in my opinion is worth a little more if one can afford. We are finding this way of living to be less than we were spending before. We had never had a budget before doing this so we are much better managers of our money and where it goes. Imagine all the trips to Target or Wal-Mart and buying “stuff” you don’t need. We can’t do that now because we have no where to put it. We eat out less and we waste very little in uneaten groceries. We don’t buy many new clothes because there is no room. The kids don’t get new toys as there is nowhere to put them. Our kids have made an amazing transformation in the fact they now value every penny they have. They have become savers instead of spenders. If they have 50 cents in their pockets they refuse to spend it even on candy. We have been very impressed seeing how the materialistic values they had have gone. We discuss money and how to spend it every day so the kids have learned that if we do one thing we can’t do another.
If you ever had an interest in this lifestyle then all you need to do is sit down and crunch the numbers to see if you can make it work. If you can’t make it work now then you may be able to in a few years with some planning.
I hope this has explained a little more of the finances of traveling. If you have any questions let us know. Remember life is short, follow your dreams.
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