The single most common question about full time travel is financial. People immediately jump to affordability, assuming that only luck or the wealthy can pull off this lifestyle. There are endless ways that full timers make this work, but I will share how we did it. I will try to answer the question I hear repeatedly: “How can you afford to travel full time?”
In our particular situation, my husband works in the Technology field. He is able to telecommute, or work remotely, visiting the office a few times a year. This does not mean that he works whenever he wants to, it means he works the same hours, just from our “home.” Wherever we happen to be parked must have access to Wifi. Plain and simple. The worst case scenario is that he must drive to the nearest town, Starbucks, or library to be connected.
We have met so many people with a huge variety of jobs along the way. Technology is a common one, but many people travel for work, and bring their family along in an RV as they go. Some full timers have online businesses, work as consultants, as traveling nurses, in sales, writing, or a whole variety of jobs that have some flexibility in terms of location.
Some full time travelers are campground hosts or work campers. This means that in exchange for their stay at a campground or for an hourly rate, they work where they camp. We have also met families who have saved for years and years to part from their employer, and spend a designated amount of time traveling before returning back to traditional jobs.
We have rented out our home, so our mortgage is covered. What we previously spent on our mortgage is more than enough to cover a monthly campground fee. As long as our campground fees are the same or less than what we used to pay for our mortgage, it breaks even.
We do not have a monthly payment on our RV, because we saved up and bought an older, used motor home with cash. I believe this was essential to making this lifestyle affordable for us. We were fortunate to be able to store our belongings in a family member’s attic, instead of paying for storage. But, we sold about 85% of our belongings and just about all of our furniture.
We do not have as many utility bills living in an RV. The utilities we do pay for only account for a living space of a couple hundred square feet, rather than a couple thousand square feet. Electricity and water are usually included in our campground fee, and the furnace, water heater and refrigerator are heated on propane, not gas. So, approximately every 3 or 4 months we have to refill our propane tank, which costs about $75-$100.
We have a full kitchen, so the food expenses are about the same as before. The exception to this is if we are in the middle of nowhere and are forced to pay exorbitant prices for groceries, which happens occasionally. We do eat out when touring, but we try to pack picnic lunches as often as possible to keep food expenses reasonable.
There are expenses that vary greatly depending upon how often and how far you travel. Driving a motor home while towing a car is not cheap. Putting excessive miles on your vehicles means that you spend more money on maintenance and repairs. Touring many attractions lends itself to high admission and tour fees. However, there are ways to keep these expenses under control.
We have learned that it is much more costly to pay nightly or even weekly campground fees than it is to get a monthly rate. A typical daily rate for our large RV, in a campground with Wifi, averages $35 – $45 dollars. There is often a slight savings on a weekly rate, such as the 7th night free. Monthly rates vary by location, but we have paid as little as $375 per month off season to $1000 during prime season. We use both Passport America and Good Sam’s Club memberships, which cost about $40 each and give us approximately a 10% discount.
So, whenever possible, we pick a centralized campsite location that we can park the RV for a month or more, and then take our car to visit attractions within a two hour driving radius. We put more gas in the car, but it’s much less expensive than filling the RV. This means there is less maintenance and repairs on the RV itself. Ideally, we drive the RV shorter distances each month, trying to stay within 3-4 hours when possible. Some RVer’s will stay a whole season in one campground to keep costs down.
Many, many full time travelers tend to “boon dock” or “dry camp”, meaning that they stay for free on public lands, in rest areas, Walmart parking lots, or on friend’s properties without hookups. This is not something that we do, but it can make this lifestyle more affordable. On that note, the smaller RV’s and campers have much more flexibility when finding accommodations, because they tend to fit into those tight spots in the less expensive campgrounds of State and National Parks. Typically this doesn’t work to our benefit because we have a large RV and because we have to find a campground with Wifi, an added “luxury,” which ultimately costs more.
We do splurge on tour admissions depending on our location, just like we’d splurge on activities when we lived in a regular house. I try to find free activities and museums in each area, and we take advantage of our National Parks Pass, which for $80 annually, gives us access to hundreds of State and National Parks throughout the country. Sometimes instead of taking city bus tours, at times I’ve been able to find resources online that give us “free” turn by turn driving tours. And we have kids, so a beach or a playground are great ways to spend a few hours and provide endless entertainment.
I would also argue that being away from the Midwest during the harsh winters and in a sunnier, warmer environment keeps our doctor bills lower. We get more Vitamin D on a daily basis which means less viruses and illness.
So, is it expensive to travel full time? The answer is Yes and No. It all comes down to everyone’s individual lifestyle habits and circumstances. Ultimately, we believe it is more affordable than people realize. We have the flexibility to stay put in locations that we enjoy, and move whenever we are not content, all while living at essentially the same cost as when we were in a “sticks and bricks” home.