Our Monthly Travel Expense Log
One of the most common questions RVers are asked is how much it costs per month to fund a full-time nomadic lifestyle. That is a personal question of course, highly variable upon personal style and income.
Our disclaimer: We’re driven to always be living in the perfect spot for us – whether that be a great view, being nearby loved ones or attending amazing events. We are completely debt free, cash positive, actively manage our investments and work as we roam running our mobile app, writing and advising business (we hit the road when we were both 33, and are now in our early 40s). Our monthly income varies, and we don’t really follow a ‘budget’ – we spend what we decide we want to spend.
We selected this lifestyle of mobility to maximize our quality of life, not necessarily to minimize our expenses – although, for us, that has been a nice side effect.
Some will look at our costs and think we’re living an indulgent lifestyle, and some will look at this and wonder how we get by on so little. We’re always amazed at the scale of reactions we get. Remember, life is about finding your own happiness quotient.
We share our monthly travel cost log to enter another example of what it can cost to travel full time. This should by no means be an indicator of what it’ll cost anyone else, and please note this is not an accounting of all our monthly living expenses, just those related to travel & RVing. But we do explain how traveling might impact your other living expenses below.
And for more elaboration on the categories of our typical expenses:
Fixed Travel Costs
These are the costs that we incur every single month and don’t vary much, and are tallied up in the ‘Fixed Cost’ column above.
Our internet and communications cost is essential to our livelihood. If we can’t keep online, we can’t work – thus we couldn’t do any of this stuff.
Our current arsenal includes:
- 2 iPhones on an AT&T Mobile Share Plan (25 GB/mo) – $75 (roughly, we actually share a 40GB plan snagged under a ‘double data’ deal with a few family members, which brings our costs way down.)
- iPad on AT&T with unlimited data – $30
- Verizon Grandfathered Unlimited Plan – $70
So we consider our base connectivity charge to be $175/mo. You can get a full look at our mobile internet setup.
This may seem high to you at first – but consider that if we lived in a fixed home; we’d still each have cell phones (and/or a ‘land line’ of some sort) and a bill for high speed internet. Plus we’d also probably still have cellular data expenses for our travels, something we both did a lot of before we hit the road. Also, some of these costs are paid for by our business.
If we know we’ll be somewhere with reliable WiFi or other options, we can suspend our various cellular accounts.
Auto/RV Insurance & Registration
We have a full-timers policy on our bus that is kinda like a combined home-owners and auto policy ($882/yr), and annual tag fees for our personalized speciality plates ($110/yr). As of 2013, we are registered and insured out of Florida – and we have limited full coverage options for a restored vintage bus conversion (our policy is through National General – formerly GMAC, and our agent is Epic-Insurance.)
We also of course have insurance and personalized speciality tag fees on our toad (tow behind vehicle), a 2009 MINI Cooper. That comes out to about $950/year in total.
Total monthly : $152
We both have an individual HSA Silver plan that is ACA compatible, with medium range deductibles ($2750-3500/yr) with a provider network that is fairly nationwide. We’re currently with Assurant on their Aetna PPO network, and our plans are ‘on the exchange’ in Florida with a small subsidy that we adjust based on our variable income each year. This is a pretty affordable way to go that gives us nation wide access to providers, but does put a lot of the more preventative and minor care costs on us. It’s a decent way to go for someone in our age group without major medical problems.
We also have the Telehealth service, which gives us access to virtual doctors visits over phone/internet and a discount dental & vision network across the nation.
Our costs above only include our premiums, not contributions to our HSAs or medical expenses we have along the way – so adjust your health care needs accordingly.
Combined monthly premium: $530
Mail Forwarding & Domicile
We use St. Brendan’s Isle in Florida for our mail forwarding, and use their Mail Scan Pro service. Their address also serves as our legal address of domicile for driver’s licenses, voting, vehicle registration, business registration, taxes, etc. They collect our mail, scan the front of the envelop and notify us via e-mail that we have new mail. We can then view our envelops online and decide what to do with them – scan, send or shred. We can request a shipment to whatever address we’re at.
Monthly Cost: $20/mo, plus postage & scanning charges
Variable Travel Costs
Fuel & Maintenance
This is a fluctuating cost – both in the cost of fuel and how many miles we’re traveling. We consider putting fuel in the tank to be like pouring rent into the tank.
We get 7 – 7.5 mpg in the bus, the fuel is diesel.
Our toad is a 2009 Mini Cooper, that gets 30-40 mpg (city vs highway), and we use that for local transportation.
We like to vary up our pace – some months we put lots of miles on the bus as we make a major repositioning, and then others we stay pretty still. It all balances out, which is a beauty of this lifestyle. Our general goal is to keep our bus mileage under 8000 miles a year… a much slower pace than our first several years on the road where we traveled 10-13k miles per year.
There is of course also maintenance on both of the vehicles. The bus, we anticipate about $1500-2500 per year in routine maintenance (fluid & filter changes, plus general upkeep), and we keep a lot of cash set aside to handle major breakdowns (such as needing a complete engine rebuild in July 2013). The MINI should be much less.
And of course, we also factor in frequent car washes, as any vehicle towed behind a 2-stroke diesel engine is gonna get dirty.
We have no car or RV payments – we paid cash for both vehicles. And we should note, we are actively doing bus remodeling and improvement projects – and those costs are not reflected in our monthly expenses above.
Another part is how much we’re spending to live somewhere – and in our travels, we’re usually going places for a reason: to be close to loved ones, attend events or work related.
Fees vary by location, amenities and whether we’re in a public or private campground.
A public campground (state, federal, county, city, etc.) fee is in the range of $5-50/night (some are even free!), but generally have a 14 day limit on them. Amenities can range from dry camping to full hook-ups with electric/water/sewer. We generally love public parks, as they offer larger sites, more privacy, great views and access to active things to do out in nature… we spend a lot of time in them.
A commercial RV Park or resort can cost more in the $20-90/night range, and many offer more affordable weekly/monthly rates. We stay in these when they’re the best option for the proximity to where we want to be, or we need access to full hook-ups to beat the weather, or dump/fill tanks.
We keep memberships in these clubs to help give us discounted and/or free stays at places:
- Passport America to save 50% on nightly fees at participating parks – the annual fee pays for itself with just a couple stays. We use this club mostly when we’re in-between extended off-grid stays to dump & fill the tanks.
- Escapees RV Club – they have their own network of RV parks, and they offer 15-50% discounts at over 1000 parks nationwide.
- Harvest Hosts – $40/year gives you access to a database of wineries, vineyards, farms, museums and other unique places that welcome RVers. A fun way to mix it up!
- OvernightRVParking.com – For $25/year you get access to a curated list of places you can generally park for free overnight. Although, we find these days the AllStays Camp & RV app has most of the locations plus regular camping options, and is much easier to use.
- Our Full Guide to Finding Campgrounds & Boondocking
Now that we’re back to being solar powered, we enjoy mixing in a lot of boondocking. This might range from staying for free in awesome places on public lands (BLM, National Forests, etc), staying in lower cost public campgrounds without hook-ups, ‘blacktop boondocking’ overnight in commercial parking lots or rest stops, to driveway surfing with friends & family (got bus parking? We love invitations!). These low/free cost stays not only bring our average cost down a lot, they’re some of our most memorable stays.
For staying in RV Parks, monthly rates are the best rates followed by weekly, and help balance out shorter stays while we’re in transit. Urban locations are typically more expensive – so if we need to be somewhere like San Francisco, Austin, St. Louis, etc. – monthly rates can be $500-1300. Some locations have seasonal rates too, so if we need to be in Florida during the winter (where our family is), it’s more expensive. If we don’t need to be near an urban area, the lowest we’ve paid so far is $300/month.
We also take fun volunteer positions from time to time – such as interpretive hosting at a lighthouse in Oregon. We get to do something incredibly fun and give our time for under 20 hours a week, and get a full hook-up site in a gorgeous location.
We consider ourselves happy when at the end of the year, our average monthly campground fees are under $400-500/month. But we don’t sweat it.
One consideration with the variability of camping fees, is that to score great spots during peak season in your desired location – you may find you have to pre-pay for your spot at time of reservation or put up a sizable deposit. So if you’re making your winter reservations during the summer – you could end up paying for part of your winter lodging, while still funding your summer lodging. Always be sure to check out the cancellation policy when making reservations in advance – sometimes they’re refundable, and sometimes there are fees involved.
There are also membership park networks (like Thousand Trails, Coast to Coast, etc.) that some folks join to save on camping. We’ve however yet to find any of these parks in the places we naturally end up at. But if we do, we might consider joining. In the meantime, we prefer having complete freedom to choose where we stay based on where we want to be, not where a park in ‘our network’ happens to be.
Non-RVing Specific Living Expenses
All of the below stuff we’ve not included in the above cost log – as these are expenses we’d have regardless if we were traveling or living in a stationary home. But we will discuss some things that influence these costs with a traveling lifestyle.
Day to Day costs
These are the normal things … like food, clothing, laundry, etc.
Obviously, food is a point where budgets can vary widely by personal dietary preferences… but you’ll probably spend similarly to what you spend now, maybe a touch more. The biggest change is you may not have room to store bulk buys – so that could account for some increase. And you may be tempted to eat out a bit more while you’re traveling, mostly to sample local cuisines but sometimes just because it’s easier after a long day of driving, or cooking in a small space may be seem limiting. If we’re staying in a ‘foodie’ area, our expenses go up as we love eating local. If we’re staying somewhere with limited dining out options, we tend to cook in more. We tend to lean towards organics, whole foods and are primarily vegetarian and gluten free at home. We enjoy wine, craft brews and local cuisine. We know of folks who thrive on a few hundred a month for a food budget.. but that’s definitely not us. At least not at this stage in our lives – food is part of our social life, and brings us joy and good health.
Laundry is another consideration. We opted not to make room for a washer/dryer in our rig – so we use mainly public coin laundry facilities. It’s nice to get 2-2 weeks of laundry done in under an hour, and many campgrounds have laundry facilities on site. The cost of a load of laundry can vary widely by location and facilities. We’ve had them cost everything from free in Louisiana State Parks (seriously!) to up to $5-6. Average is probably around $2.50-3.50 a load. We consider the costs fairly insignificant and not worth micro-reporting. But we do consider quarters to be like gold, and make sure we always have plenty. Nothing like having no clean undies left, arriving to a campground after the office is closed and not enough quarters to get a load done.
Clothing is something to consider as well. You’ll likely have less space to store a huge wardrobe, but you will also likely be exposed to more climates and variety of venues – thus requiring a well balanced selection. We tend to do a lot of thrift shopping for our clothing, this helps us affordably adapt to local weather & venues. But we’re also not afraid to spend good money for quality staples in our wardrobe.
When you’re traveling, you’re going to be exposed to new things – from local foods to attractions to festivals/rallies/events. You’re probably going to want to explore them, which will add to your spending. We recommend keeping a ‘fun stuff’ line item in your budget so you can fully embrace what you find out on the road. For us, we look at it as instead of saving up for a big vacation once a year, we’re now spreading out our ‘fun money’ expenses throughout the year as we encounter opportunities. Of course, we also enjoy a big vacation away from RVing too, and tend to take cruises, fly ‘home’ to family or find other travel adventures too.
We enjoy going to events, conferences, rallies, concerts, hot springs, community theatre, musicals, local events (roller derby, festivals, rodeos, etc.), participating in organized runs/walks and more. These were all things we did before we hit the road. But the costs are different now – as we’re frequently finding out about events fairly last minute and sometimes paying late entry rates. And, sometimes we end up needing to forfeit event fees that we had to sign up for in advance, but routing plans changing to make it unrealistic to attend. Be sure to know the ticket transfer/re-sell policy before you buy, and consciously factor that into advanced ticket purchases. You’ll find some events you want to attend just aren’t all that friendly to those of us that don’t like to over-plan, as they sell out quickly or allow no last minute transfers.
Also keep in mind that you may find that in order to attend events, special occasions of loved ones or emergency situations – other methods of travel than your RV may make more sense. So you may need to keep a travel budget for airplanes, hotels, fuel for your vehicle, trains, etc.
We also don’t list our other major expense: Tech! Our geek arsenal - computers, cameras, equipment, gadgets, etc. But you can probably get a good idea that we spend a lot in this realm – which may or may not be relevant to your needs on the road. Since you’re reading this page, it’s probably safe to assume you’re going to have some tech expense for mobile internet and computers. And you’ll probably want some sort of camera to capture all the amazing places and people in your adventures.
Since our business is technology and our expertise is cutting edge technology, this is pretty essential stuff to our livelyhood and keeping up to date is what allows us to be mobile. We upgrade our tech early and often. Our computers are rarely more than 18 months and we usually have the latest iGadgets released (we are app developers and need to test on the latest and greatest after all).
Occasionally we’ll accept an offer to evaluate technology for a company, so some of the minor stuff we use we get for free. But they these deals come at the expectations of having to fully put them to the paces, do in-depth evaluations, be a beta test site, give ‘free’ feedback consulting to the manufacturer and publicly report on our findings. This takes a LOT of time that would actually make it substantially cheaper to just buy the stuff in the first place, especially since this is the sort of mobile tech consulting we typically get hired for.
Saving for the future, investing and giving
We are also actively saving and investing for the future. We have retirement funds we’re building, savings and investments (all moderate – nothing large enough to fully retire early…. yet.) We also are pretty quick to invest in others – supporting innovation, donating to a cause we believe in, etc.
So.. as you can see, between being debt free and having containment on living costs, it doesn’t have to take much to live a very sustainable, exciting and full time traveling lifestyle. For us, it’s substantially less expensive than when we lived in fixed homes with rent/mortgage, upkeep, utilities, etc. Others are far more frugal than us and able to live for substantially less, and others live far more extravagantly. Kinda like any other lifestyle, really.
It really comes down to personal style.