Money, or how we afford to travel full time
The number one question my husband, Dana, gets when talking to other fellow campers around the country? “Are you retired?”
Fair enough question, given that he has white hair and looks like a retired executive from a big corporate company that he worked at for thirty plus years. The fact couldn’t be further away from appearances.
No, me and my husband Dana, are not trust fund babies either. We have not won the lottery.
We just recently started working on figuring out how to start making and earning passive income and how to monetize our travels via blog and social media, but as most people who do this for a living will tell you, that takes a lot of patience and time.
In the meantime, Dana simply hasn’t quit his job. He has his own private practice as an accountant, which he was able to take on the road. He works Monday through Friday like most people do. Granted, his office is inside a 20ft Airstream, which we call our home, and his views are of green forests, bubbling creeks, blue lakes, and majestic mountains.
That said, we are not on a permanent vacation, like some people would like to believe. He has deadlines and demanding clients. And because he has his own company in a field that changes constantly, he also has to study new laws and regulations. He is the boss, the IT team, and all the other office departments rolled into one.
But that’s what pays the bills, for now anyways.
Financial breakdown of our spending:
Airstream (our house) – we bought the Airstream brand new, from the great folks at Colonial Airstream during our trip to the RV show in Hershey PA last year. We did put down a down-payment and are making monthly payments on it. Thankfully, there is no pre-payment penalty, so sometimes we pay a larger chunk ahead of time, but mostly we pay about $600 a month.
Food & Eating out
Believe it or not, this is our largest expense. We do like to eat out and even though we get better at it over time and don’t eat out as much as we used to (also restaurants being shut down the past several months helped with that), we still spend quite a bit of money on food.
Between the groceries and eating out, we spend on average $900 a month on food.
Yes, we are trying to get better at it, as I said, but trying new food and local specialties in new locations is something that is really hard to resist for us (specifically me).
As you can imagine, pulling a rig takes quite a bit of fuel. We spend between $150 to $350 a month on fuel. It really depends how long we stay in one spot – the longer we stay, the less fuel we use, obviously.
We use exclusively the AT&T network for our phone plans and also had a special AT&T wireless box installed in our Airstream. It’s a partnership deal between AT&T and Airstream. For $325 a year we have unlimited high speed internet wherever we travel. Of course, we don’t always get the best coverage – sometimes the internet gets spotty, but we run into it only occasionally. We also pay for our monthly cell phone coverage, which is around $175 a month for both our cell phones.
We have very little to no rent. In February of this year, we purchased a Thousand Trails premium membership that allows us to stay in Thousand Trails campgrounds for 3 weeks at a time and 2 weeks at a time in their “premium” tier campgrounds called The Trails Collection and Encore for no extra payment.
The membership cost us $6,400 and that’s for a lifetime. While the upfront amount seems like a lot, if you divide it only by 12, it comes down to $534 a month. Obviously, the amount gets lower with each year we use it. I wouldn’t recommend this for a non-full-time RV-ers, because the cost is only justified if you use it fully, in my opinion.
We pay $600 a year for their maintenance fee – think of it as an HOA fee for Thousand Trails campgrounds.
With the membership, we also have access to campgrounds through Resort Parks International, where we can stay at campgrounds for an average of $10 a night.
Thousand Trails has pretty extensive camping program all over the United States, but it isn’t everywhere. Some highly sought-after areas – such as Glacier National Park or Yellowstone, we will definitely want to stay inside the National Park and use their campgrounds instead.
For places that we want to go to and there are no state parks or Thousand Trails, we try to book campgrounds that offer discounted monthly rents. We fell in love with the Finger Lakes in New York state last year and this year we are staying in a private campground that offers a monthly rent. The camp resort is right on the water and has many wonderful amenities that we can’t wait to utilize.
Dana has a VA insurance card, which was a huge pain in a butt to obtain. Yes, he has been part of the VA for years, but to actually get into the system correctly and getting the VA card that lets him visit a doctor was not an easy task and took several months.
Once every two years he must go see a doctor for a check-up in order to keep his VA health benefits active.
I am insured through our travel insurance for medical emergencies.
We don’t have any dental plan; we pay from our pocket when needed – our teeth are in pretty good shape and so we pay mainly for cleaning and check-ups.
Laundry, shopping and other expenses
On laundry we spend on average around $40 a month. It fluctuates depending how much the laundromats charge, of course. We’ve seen as low as $1 per wash and as high as $4.50 a wash. We do 3 loads of wash and 2 loads of dry per week, so it adds up.
Outside of shopping for food, we really don’t shop much at all. We just don’t have room for it. Once in a blue moon we buy a random shirt here or a pair of socks there. Unless our clothes are falling apart, we don’t buy new clothes since we already own everything we need. Occasionally Dana buys some little odds and ends for his fishing hobby and I mainly spend on stitching supplies, as I love cross stitching.
Overall, our shopping comes down to an average of $100 a month.
And then there are other small expenses like the car wash, the occasional RV wash, hose replacement etc. which is about $50 a month.
Every six months we have the car checked for maintenance and detailed, which is usually around $1200.
I diligently log all our expenses into an app on my phone called appropriately the ‘Spending Tracker’. It lets you customize your expense categories, which is great.
I’d say overall our expenses are going down the more we travel full time. Short of payments on our Airstream, we don’t have any debts. Our car is fully paid for, which was one of the deciding factors for us to leave Hawai’i and go traveling full time.
For us it’s important not only to have financial security, but also to save money on monthly basis and to add to our investment account as well.
Overall, we do well enough. Of course, we could do better and strife to do so, as we travel and learn to live more the minimalist lifestyle.
Hope this helped to see how much a life on the road is in financial terms.
Should you have any questions or want to share your own experience, don’t hesitate to comment below.