When you add up the airfare, hotel costs, parking, car rental, dining out, attraction tickets, tours, pina coladas, pet sitters and more – a typical American 1 week vacation adds up, often astronomically. Even if you shop for sales and bargains, many folks need to save up for months, or even years, to manage a single memorable week-long trip.
And then they return home both exhausted and broke.
The overall numbers get even more unpleasant when you consider that while on vacation you still keep paying your normal living costs as well – the bills for your rent or mortgage, utilities, lawn maintenance, debt payments, pest control, security system, etc.
When a lot of folks contemplate a life of full time travel, they mentally calculate what their last weeklong vacation cost, multiply that by 52, and immediately conclude that they will never be able to afford it.
Traveling full time as a lifestyle isn’t the same as going on vacation full time.
Being nomadic is just as much a lifestyle choice as residing in the suburbs, an urban loft or a rural farm.
When you design your life to travel full time, your travels costs take the place of a lot of your previous housing costs… providing you are willing to leave your former fixed base behind.
Travel doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as long as you don’t equate travel with paying for a luxury resort or flying first class all the time. There are many ways to travel that are more affordable, even if you are planning to circumnavigate the world. Lonely Planet estimates that you can travel the world for as little as $14,000/year if you make efforts to keep your costs under control.
Some more affordable choices to consider for full time traveling include:
- RVing – Putting your house on wheels gives you the benefits of always being at home and always being in a state of travel. You wake up in your own bed every morning, it just happens to frequently be parked somewhere new. RVs suitable for traveling & living in can be purchased in just about any size range and on any budget – from a couple thousand dollars on up into the millions. You can choose to stay in campgrounds, RV Parks or optimize your free boondocking skills. Yes, you have fuel costs in a gas-guzzling huge vehicle – but you have complete control over how many miles you drive in a year to balance that.
- Cruising / Boating – Many travelers hear the siren song of the seas, and choose to buy a boat and live life on the water. Sailing is a great way to go, as you can limit your fuel costs as long as you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. If you learn to do your own maintenance, live-aboard sailing can be surprisingly affordable.
- Minimalist Travel – Backpacking, tent camping, staying at hostels, budget motels and/or Couchsurfing are all ways to see the world at a quicker pace while reducing the cost of lodging.
- Subletting, renting and/or house-sitting – Longer term rentals on places, or exchanging care taking for free lodging, are a lot more obtainable (and more comfortable) than short nightly rentals of hotel rooms or hostels. You won’t get your nomad membership card taken away if you don’t change locations every week.
- Seasonal/Temp Work – Some seasonal and temporary jobs provide accommodations. Some examples include seasonal work at tourist destinations, hosting at campgrounds, teaching English as a second language, taking part in a harvest, peak season vacation area temp jobs and more. If lodging is provided, you don’t need to earn a lot to afford staying in an exotic locale.
- Volunteering – Some longer term volunteer jobs provide accommodations, and perhaps even food. WWOOFing (volunteering on organic farms across the world) and other positions are great opportunities!
- Travel Slower – Constantly hopping around places means paying a higher nightly rate for campgrounds & hotels, and lots of transportation costs. Staying longer at your destinations allows you more time at a location to immerse yourself, and spreads out the major costs. Sometimes monthly rates for a place are barely more than the weekly rate, a huge savings if you aren’t in a rush to move on. Besides, us mobile workers do need to carve out time to work!
The key is to distance yourself from the idea that travel has to be a luxury vacation. Nor does it have to be a minimalist frugal pursuit.
There is a balance to be struck for every conceivable budget.
Get rid of unneeded expenses
Imagine what your budget would be like if you kept income coming in, and you cut out all of your housing expenses? What are you currently paying for rent or mortgage, insurance, property taxes, upkeep and utilities? What if that was instead your monthly travel budget – how much could you do with that?
If you own your home, that may mean selling your house or renting it out – perhaps not as easy to do in this economy. But if you want it to happen, it will. If you have a lease on something, it is even easier to allow your obligation to expire.
Unless you’re ready to purge absolutely everything, you’ll probably find that you’ll need storage space somewhere – either by paying for a commercial unit or utilizing a friend’s basement. I highly recommend considering shedding yourself of as much stuff as possible if you’re considering traveling indefinitely. Paying for storage space for stuff you’re unlikely to ever need again is kind of silly – but you may not be ready to purge the last of your anchors until you’ve fully embraced full time travel for a while.
It goes without saying, debts are a huge anchor – whether or not you’re considering travel.
It is important to structure your life to pay off any you have and avoid accumulating them in the first place. I know it may seem insurmountable, but once you put your mind to do it, it’s achievable and freeing.
When you’re preparing for a nomadic lifestyle, seriously consider every purchase you make from this moment forward. Remember, you’ll soon be deciding how you’ll dispose of the item .. or you will be (perhaps literally) carrying it with you. Switch now to buying less stuff, and put that money towards your debts or savings.
However, if you have debts – don’t let them necessarily keep you back from pursuing your dreams of travel. If you’re paying your debts and living costs now, the travel costs are basically going to replace your living costs – and could even be less. You’ll just have to account for what your total cost of living on the road will be, including your debt repayments.
To ditch or not ditch the house?
Many homeowners who are pondering a nomadic lifestyle are faced with the decision of what to do with their home. Sell it or rent it out?
If you’re sure you’re done with a stationary home and ready to be mobile for the foreseeable future, ditching the house is probably a logical solution. Call up some real estate agents in your area and develop a plan to aggressively sell your house. Stop thinking of it as ‘home’ and concentrate on your life of mobility ahead.
Unfortunately, in most markets, real estate prices are still quite depressed – and selling a home may be a costly proposition. You may even have to take a loss on the property to get out of the mortgage obligation, or negotiate with your lender to consider other options.
Consult with several real estate agents in your area as to what they think your home can realistically sell for, and in what time frame. If you need a higher price, it may take significantly longer to find the right buyer. Consider what the total cost of continuing to pay all of your housing costs will be while you keep your house on the market. You may come to determine that in the interest of getting on with your life already, taking that loss upfront may enable you to drop your asking price and get the house sold quicker. You might even consider taking out a personal loan to cover the loss, so you can get out of your house and on the road.
If you’re not quite sure if the nomadic life will be for you long term, or you have other reasons to hang on to your property – keeping your house may be in your best interest. You can rent out the house to cover at least part of the cost in the meantime.
The downside to renting out your house is that now you’re suddenly working a part time job as an absentee landlord while simultaneously trying to explore a mobile lifestyle. Do you really want to be dealing with late rent payments and broken water heaters while adapting to your new life of adventure? Hiring a competent local property manager may be an expense that is well worth it.
Another consideration is that rental prices in your area may not currently be enough to cover the cost of upkeeping your home. You may end up shelling out some cash to secure your homestead while you’re gone. It’s totally up to you if that’s worth the freedom you’ll gain or not.
Typical costs of Travel
Folks always want to know what it costs to travel full-time. And honestly, it will vary so drastically based upon the kind of travel you’re doing and your personal style that there is no simple answer.
A solo traveler comfortable with a back-pack, a train pass and couchsurfing is going to be able to travel much cheaper than a couple who desires swank downtown lofts, first class airfare and gourmet dining. A family traveling in a high end motorcoach staying at commercial RV resorts is going to have different costs than a family traveling via bicycles and pitching tents.
In general however, here are some considerations that greatly impact the costs:
- Modality of Travel: Will you be getting around by hitchhiking, car, RV, train, plane, boat, bicycle? What is the fuel efficiency of your RV, and how many miles do you plan to traverse a month? Is your travel flexible enough to take advantage of deals, ride-shares, and are you willing to invest the effort to maximize frequent flier programs?
- Pace of Travel: Do you plan to move around a lot, thus having more transportation costs and lodging logistics? Or do you want to settle down in one spot for a month or more? Slower travels allows you to take advantage of monthly rentals and spreads out your transportation costs, and leaves you with more time to explore a location instead of figuring out logistics for your next destination.
- Lodging Preferences: Where do you want to sleep at night? Is staying on stranger’s couches or in dorm room style hostels sustainable for you long term? Do you require a lot of space and privacy in your home base, or will a super tiny converted van do the trick? Do you want to park your RV in populated areas with amenities, or do you want to stay out in the boonies far away from other people?
- Live like a tourist or a local?: Do you want to embrace how the locals live, and adapt your experience to what is more affordable.. or are you budgeting for tourist attraction tickets and eating western fare no matter the cost?
The awesome thing about not being tied to a location is you alway have a choice to mix things up! You can play around with the pace & modality of travel as your budget and mental sanity allow. Funding running low? Find yourself a low cost way to get still for a couple of months, and focus on income earning. When the funds build back up, move on to your next destination.
Remember, this isn’t like having a job you have to commute to regardless of if you can afford to fill the gas tank. You are in control.
Our pre-nomad situations
Before Chris went nomadic, he had a Silicon Valley job that afforded him a penthouse apartment in downtown San Francisco. Chris evicted himself at the end of his lease, bought a small travel trailer and Jeep, and hit the road.
I was living beachside on Florida’s Space Coast in a 3 bedroom / 2 bath house I co-owned with a housemate who was also ready to move on. The housing market was crashing faster than most other places in the country due to hurricanes and the space shuttle program coming to an end. I quickly went from having sizable equity in the house, to being upside down in it. We calculated the costs of keeping the house for 2 more years, and set that as the loss we were willing to take to give us the freedom to move on. Once we made that mental shift, it took less than a month to sell at a price we could stomach. Even though my savings account took quite a hit, it was incredibly liberating.
To be completely upfront – we’re not on a mission to be as frugal and minimalist as possible – that’s just not our driving force. We’re both skilled high tech entrepreneurs with the capacity to earn as much as we’re willing to work. By avoiding making financial commitments wherever possible we have the flexibility to be lazy bums when we want to, and take on inspiring projects when we feel so called.
That said, neither of us is independently wealthy. We have moderate savings and investments, but certainly not enough to never have to work again.
We are however completely debt free.
We have a mix of fixed costs each month that include our connectivity, insurance and a storage unit (ugh). And then we have costs that can vary quite a bit each month based on what we’re doing – fuel & transportation, lodging, campground fees, eating, airfare, rail fare, entertainment, laundry and technology.
We do mix up our pace and style of travel often – and presently we’re traveling the US in a pimped out converted vintage bus.
We love variety though and have integrated in a 5-month stay on a tropical island, extended travel by rail and minimalist RVing in a tiny 16′ travel trailer.
Our costs have varied from $1000 – $4000/month over the years.
You CAN afford it!
If you really embrace nomadic living as a lifestyle, you will find it surprisingly easy to afford.
Shed your debts, stop paying for a home base, and stop thinking of travel as an expensive indulgence. Once you’ve managed the transition, you will find that life can be rich with experience and yet extremely affordable as well.
Travel full-time for less than $14,000 per year. – An excellent article by professional hobo Nora Dunn, about how to keep full time world traveling inexpensive.
Strategies for Affording Long Term Travel – The folks over at Two Backpakers One World share their tips on saving money and affording long term travel.
Nomadic Matt – Matt Knepes has been budget traveling the world for many years, and shares many of his tips and strategies on his blog and in his various eBooks.
You vs. Debt – Man vs. Debt’s Adam Baker has put together a 6 week course to help those struggling with debt develop and keep to a plan to get out of it. Keep an eye on when the next class is open.
Travel Hacking Cartel – Run by travel hacker extrodinaire, Chris Guillebeau, this monthly membership club tracks frequent flier & hotel programs for deals to build up your free travel accounts without traveling. (We tried it for a couple months, and it was more effort than we were willing to put in.. but it might be worthwhile.)
What happened to the eBook version of this series?
We used to offer an eBook version of this content on a ‘Pay as you Wish’ basis. That book got so out of date and we have no time to keep it updated – so we took it down.
We do our best to upkeep the segments in this blog series, but realistically can’t see republishing the book edition.
In November 2018, RV Love released their brand new (professionally published) book – Living the RV Life. It goes over a lot of similar content to this series (and more) on RVing. We highly recommend picking up a copy!
You’re of course welcome to browse the No Excuses: Go Nomadic series online for more of our tips & tricks on the logistics of nomadic travel.
If you do appreciate this series or the content on our blog, we always LOVE hearing your appreciation – leave a comment, leave a tip (link at bottom of every page) and/or share this post. Thank you!