You don’t have to be rich to travel full time. I’m serious. It’s helpful to have savings and good credit as a safety net, but the rest is about creativity and mindset. Here’s how we’ve been able to make full-time travel financially sustainable.
Tip #1: Focus on housing and transportation
The majority of your budget, traveling or not, goes two places: housing and transportation. Focusing your saving efforts there will make the biggest dent.
Stop getting a $3 coffee once a day and you’ll save $90/month. Find cheaper housing or a more efficient car and your savings triple or quadruple. And you don’t have to exercise willpower every single day — just at the moment of purchase. (I highly recommend Laura Vanderkam’s book for more wisdom like this.)
We learned early on to avoid pricey private campgrounds. The “amenities” aren’t worth it. We also don’t pick the fanciest Airbnbs and have even negotiated more favorable weekly/monthly rates. When we bought Red Delicious, we got her used (not new) from a dealership (for the reliability). We negotiated hard, and even walked away until they gave a better offer. All of this has a big impact on our budget.
A “hoptopus” at Southbound Brewing Company in Savannah, which offers free tours and beer tasting
Tip #2: Make your banks and credit cards work for you
A Charles Schwab checking account makes sure we never pay ATM fees, so we can use any ATM. Traveling by van means we fuel up frequently, so we found the best cash back rewards on gas (Blue Cash Preferred by American Express).
If we drive into Canada or Mexico, we have credit cards with no foreign transaction fees (Chase Sapphire). Those same credit cards offer double points on travel-related purchases (e.g., Airbnbs) while others offer 5% cash back at restaurants (Chase Freedom). The points and cash back earned can be applied as statement credits.
The Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans is free and has 60+ beautiful sculptures — we found it on a list of 26 Cheap Things To Do in New Orleans
Tip #3: Hit the grocery store
Food is our third-biggest expense after housing and transportation, so being smart about where and when we eat at restaurants is important. If it’s easy to make ourselves, we typically do. We usually go for lunch since that’s less expensive than dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, we still go out to eat and it’s one of our favorite ways to explore a new place. But why pay $40 + tip at a restaurant when all you wanted was a sandwich and salad?
Going to the grocery store often means we can splurge on dinners and cocktails, like this ginormous pork shank with greens and cornbread at The Grey, a beautifully restored Greyhound-station-turned-restaurant
Tip #4: Take advantage of off-days/times
Our work hours are flexible, so we can do things that are cheaper when 9-to-5ers are in the office: movie matinees, happy hour specials, weekday green fees. There are discount days at museums and other attractions too if you look for them. We went to a baseball game in Savannah with $1 tickets, hot dogs, and beers. If we went the day before or after and saw the same teams play, the cost would’ve been higher.
Only a dollar each!
We didn’t realize, but the Augusta GreenJackets are one of the farm teams for the San Francisco Giants
Tip #5: Don’t buy souvenirs
It’s so shocking to see people come home with pricey tchotchkes. When we do get souvenirs, they’re things we needed anyway like a new t-shirt we would actually wear. Or, they are gifts for other people we feel confident they’ll use. Don’t waste your money going up and down the main tourist drag stopping at expensive gift shops. Put that money toward experiences, which are proven to make you happier.
Tip #6: Travel like you live, not like you vacation
On vacation, you might bounce from place to place. That’s a great way to see everything, but it’s also expensive. We prefer to travel slowly. Staying places for a few days, a couple weeks, or even a month helps us save on gas. It also allows us to get better rates on accommodations, per Tip #1.
Full-time travel also requires that we travel like we live. We’re not on a perma-vacation where we splurge every day on massages and hotel rooms while also maintaining a permanent residence elsewhere. When we lived in one place, some days we’d go out and explore, and other days we’d relax. We do the same while traveling.
A fun and free afternoon in Savannah’s Forsyth Park, where we saw not one but TWO Cairn Terriers to remind us of our favorite girl, Holly
Tip #7: Remember, the best things in life are free
A free walking tour, a bike ride around the neighborhood, a stroll down the beach: these are all memorable experiences that are free or cost very little. People-watching on a park bench is a great way to get to know a new place. So is wandering around a neighborhood, visiting outdoor monuments, or going for a hike. You don’t have to empty your bank account to have a good time.
Six miles of hiking trails for a $5 parking fee at Skidaway Island State Park in Savannah
Oh prohibition, how silly you were
Tip #8: Be open to trying creative ways to save
While on the road, we’ve talked to others and heard about other ways people save. Some things we’d like to explore include: state and/or national park passes, stealth camping, house-sitting, and work exchange. These are things we wouldn’t have considered before, but we want to remain open.
Our first night camping in a Walmart parking lot in Montgomery, Alabama — a great place to camp when you’re just passing through
If you have other ideas on ways to save, we’d love to hear them!