How Much Does it Cost to be a Perpetual RVing or Cruising Nomad?
One of the most common questions RVers and cruisers are asked is how much it costs per month to fund a full-time perpetual traveling lifestyle?
The answer is… it depends.
It’s highly variable based upon your personal style, travel goals, income, expenses and preferences. So sorry, we can’t just give you a number.
But we’re happy to share our costs and our thoughts.
Our disclaimer: We selected this lifestyle of mobility in 2006 at the age of 33 (do the math to figure out our current age) to maximize our quality of life, not necessarily to minimize our expenses.
We’ve mixed up our style of travels over the years and as of 2017 we are currently maintaining TWO nomadic home bases that we split our time between – a 1961 vintage bus, and a 1999 motor yacht exploring the Great Loop.
We are consumer debt free, cash positive, actively manage our investments and work as we roam writing, advising and creating mobile apps. Our monthly income varies, and we don’t really follow a fixed ‘budget’ – we spend what we decide we want to spend.
Our philosophy: Life is short, and you can’t take it with you.
Please note this is not an accounting of all our monthly costs, just those specific to the daily expenses of a traveling lifestyle (ie. we don’t include things like groceries, clothing, entertainment, home remodeling, vacations, business expenses, etc.)
Read on below for explanations of each column, and how choices you make in your travel style could impact your costs.
Some will look at our costs and think we’re living an indulgent rich & unobtainable lifestyle, and some will look at this and wonder how we get by on so little for such an amazing always changing million-dollar view lifestyle. We’re always amazed at the range of reactions we get.
We consider ourselves part of a growing ‘mobile middle class‘ – not necessarily a minimalist or lifestyle of the rich and famous (hah).
Life is about finding your own happiness quotient.
This is ours.
For us, living mobility has been substantially less expensive than when we lived in fixed homes with rent/mortgage, upkeep, utilities, travel, etc. But of course, we were on opposite coasts when we met – Chris living in a penthouse apartment in San Francisco, and Cherie in a beachside home in Florida. For us to live in an area of the country that would keep us happy long enough to stay put, we’d be paying a pretty penny in cost of living – plus we’d still be traveling anyway because we have serious wanderlust. A mobile lifestyle suits us quite well instead!
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’s all up to you!
We also have a video that goes over the Costs of Full Time RVing in depth. After we have more time in our boat, we’ll likely update this to reflect cruising costs too. (Caution, the video is over an hour long .. make sure you have the time and bandwidth available to watch). Or read on below for a written explanation too.
Explanations of each column:
- Variable Costs
- Camp & Marina Fees
- Fixed Costs
- Connectivity / Internet
- Vehicle Insurance & Registration
- Health Insurance
- Mail Forwarding
- General Daily Expenses
- Fun Stuff / Entertainment
- Geek Toys
- Savings & Investments
- Links to other Full Timer Costs
Variable Travel Costs
Since we don’t maintain a fixed home base, we consider our camp/dockage fees plus fuel to move our homes to replace what used to be our rent or mortgage payment. And we love that these are variable costs that we have a lot of control over based on decisions we make about where we stay and how many miles we move.
Camp & Marina Fees
RV Camping Fees
Fees vary by location, amenities and whether we’re in a public or private campground. 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.
Range of Camping Options
- Boondocking/Free: We enjoy mixing in a lot of boondocking. This might range from 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.
- Public campgrounds: State, federal, county, city, etc. parks can range from $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.
- Commercial RV Park & Resorts: These can cost more in $20-90+/night range, and many offer more affordable weekly/monthly rates or have discount programs they belong to. 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.
RV Membership Clubs
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. (If you join, our member number is R-0242893 .. thanks for using our referral!)
- Escapees RV Club – they have their own network of RV parks, and they offer 15-50% discounts at over 1000 parks nationwide. (If you join, select ‘Technomadia’ from the referral field.. thanks!)
- Harvest Hosts – 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! (Use our affiliate link and save 15% off new membership!)
- OvernightRVParking.com – get access to a curated list of places you can generally park for free overnight (mention Technomadia, and you’ll get a free bonus month to your subscription!). Although, we find these days the AllStays Camp & RV app has most of the locations plus regular camping options, and is easier to use.
More Info: Our Guide to RV Clubs
Other Tips for RV Camping Costs:
- Monthly & Weekly Rates: 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.
- Volunteering & Workamping: We also haven taken 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. With our full time work commitments however, we rarely have time for the extra hours however. Many campgrounds will accept ‘workampers’ for a few hours a week in exchange for a site – check Workamper News for more information.
- Reservations & Pre-Paying: 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.
Further Related Guides:
We’ll be tracking our boat living expenses going forward. We mix it up with:
- Monthly Stays – Marinas tend to charge by the foot for monthly stays, ranging from $10 – 30 per foot (we’re 47′ long, so anywhere from $500-1400, plus electric and liveaboard surcharges). Like RV Parks, these are the cheapest marina rates and we’re looking forward to a slow pace of travel spending time in marinas in cool downtowns with lots to do in walking range.
- Nightly/Weekly – Marinas are much more expensive by the night, typically charging $1-3 per foot per night, or $5-8 per foot per week. This comes out to $50-150 per night! We’ll be minimizing these.
- Anchoring – This is the RV equivalent of boondocking, and it’s far more abundantly available. There’s lists of anchorages on resources like Skipper Bob’s, Active Captain and Waterways that we’ll be utilizing to drop our anchor and enjoy ‘free’ camping.
Further Related Guide:
Fuel & Propane
This is a fluctuating cost – both in the cost of fuel and how many miles we’re traveling.
Our bus gets 7 – 7.5 mpg, the fuel is diesel in our 8v71 Detroit Diesel 2-stroke engine. A typical driving day is 50-200 miles at 55-60 mph. Annually, we have covered 5000-7000 miles by road, and we expect that to drop to the 3000 miles range as we split our time with cruising.
Our boat has two diesel Cummins 370 engines, and we’re still tracking our burn rate (with a 440 gallon tank and our slow poke style, it takes a while to get numbers) – but so far we’re getting just under 2 miles per gallon or burning 3.2 gallons per hour. A typical ‘driving day’ will likely be 15-30 nautical mile range at 7-8 knots. While our fuel “economy” sucks in comparison to our RV, we don’t cover many miles in a year. So thus our fuel costs boating are similar to our RVing costs on a monthly basis.
We like to vary up our pace – some months we put lots of miles as we make a major repositioning, and then others we stay pretty still. It all balances out, which is a beauty of this lifestyle.
During our summer 2015 RV renovations, we added back in propane for our hydronics systems (water heating, furnace, engine pre-warming) and our generator. The costs have been relatively minor – maybe a $100/year. Not worth tracking separately.
These are our costs for getting around locally.
When RVing, we tow a 2009 Mini Cooper behind the bus, that gets 30-40 mpg (city vs highway) and we use that for local transportation along with our electric folding bikes.
When on the boat, we have our dinghy for local water adventures that gets about 30 miles to a gallon of gas. We also hopscotch the Mini with us when we can from marina to marina. For land, we utilize walking, biking, renting cars, Lyft, public transit and borrowed vehicles.
New in 2017 for us is storage fees as we switch back and forth between boat and RV. RVs can use storage lots across the country which should be fairly affordable (in 2018/2019 we’re splurging on covered storage as hail is a very real concern in central Texas). Long term, we have purchased a lifetime lease at an Escapee’s Co-Op park in Arizona – which will be our storage spot for the bus, our winter base camp and a ‘casita’ for storing stuff. The actual costs of this remain to be seen.
Storing the boat will be much more expensive depending on local options. It may be a combination of dry storage on land (which will also incur haul-out, blocking and bottom paint costs) or wet storage (pretty much monthly marina costs minus live aboard fees).
These costs will shift over the upcoming years – as we get north our boating season will be much shorter, requiring more winter storage costs as we return to the bus.
There is of course also maintenance on all of the vehicles.
The bus, we generally factor in about $1500-2500 per year in routine maintenance (fluid & filter changes, plus general upkeep), plus there is major services (tires every few years, brake job, bushings, etc.) and we keep a lot of cash set aside to handle breakdowns (such as needing a complete engine rebuild in July 2013).
The MINI is usually more in the $500/year range. And of course, we also factor in frequent car washes, as any vehicle towed behind a 2-stroke diesel engine is gonna get dirty.
The boat.. well, we’re anticipating this to be pretty high in comparison. BOAT does mean Break Out Another Thousand (a misnomer, it actually means Break Out Another TEN Thousand), of course. We’ve been warned to factor in 10% of the purchase price of the boat to be our annual repair & maintenance (so, we’re figuring $15k a year).
Our first major engine maintenance, including generator, was about $2k ($1200 parts including lots of spares, $800 labor – which including training us on doing it ourselves) – subsequent general engine maintenance has been much cheaper, as we’ve been doing oil, filter and zinc changes on our own. We spent about $7k in our first year on bottom paint, changing out zincs, divers to clean the bottom ($100/mo), replacing thru-hulls, wash/waxes and other necessary maintenance.
We don’t include our home renovation, upgrade projects or non-maintenance repairs on our bus or boat however in our cost log above.
For more on upkeeping an renovating an older RV:
- Five Years in a Vintage Bus (including our cost log on maintenance & renovations)
- Is It Worthwhile to Renovate an Old RV? Why Not Just Buy New?
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.
Connectivity / Internet Access
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:
- AT&T Unlimited Plus – $75 (We keep one phone and a hotspot on this plan, and then share several lines with family members, which brings our costs way down. Plan retired as of mid-2018)
- Verizon ‘New’ Unlimited Data Plan – $80 (We switched one of our phones lines for carrier diversity,)
- Note, the above new ‘unlimited’ plans really aren’t unlimited – and have gotchas like mobile hotspot high speed caps and network management.
- For more: Our Guide to Unlimited Data Plans.
- Verizon Grandfathered Unlimited Plan – $45 (no throttling or network management apply – they are still available, but very risky these days. In late 2018, Verizon rolled out a new prepaid unlimited hotspot plan for $65/month that is an option worth considering instead (More: Verizon’s Prepaid Unlimited Data Plan)
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.
Note: We also keep several other plans onboard, but consider those just for testing purposes in running MobileIntenetInfo.com.
Total Month: $200
For more information on internet for RVers & Cruisers:
- Illustrated Tour: Our mobile internet setup
- Guide: Overview of Mobile Internet Options
- Our Book: The Mobile Internet Handbook.
- Our Mobile Internet Resource Center: Where we track industry news, write guides & product reviews and help our premium members navigate this stuff.
- Our Current Top Pick Data Plans for RVers & Cruisers
Insurance & Registration
We paid cash for our RV and car. And while we technically took out a loan on our boat, we immediately set aside several years of payments as part of our upfront acquisition costs (thus we don’t consider our loan payments to be part of our monthly budget – they came out of our ‘boat fund’ we had been saving up for in preparation).
- Bus/RV: We have a full-timers policy on our bus that is kinda like a combined home-owners and auto policy ($1128/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 – and our agent is Epic-Insurance – Gina is awesome, give her a call!)
- Car: We have liability insurance ($624) and personalized speciality tag fees ($72) on our toad (tow behind vehicle), a 2009 MINI Cooper.
- Boats: Our full coverage boat policy costs us $2000/year and covers both the motoryacht and dinghy. Our annual Florida registration is about $150, plus $26 for Coast Guard Documentation. We found our policy through the Marine Trawlers Owners Association’s recommended insurance agent.
Total monthly : $342
We have a family HSA Bronze plan that we purchase through the Healthcare Marketplace, with a ridiculously high $13,800 deductible (but includes some preventative stuff and provider co-pays) with an included network that is fairly nationwide. For 2019 we’re sticking with our ‘on exchange’ Florida based EPO plan with BlueCross BlueShield that give us national access to their BlueSelect network. We don’t claim any subsidies, but being on exchange keeps the option open to claim them at the end of the year if we qualify (our income varies).
We also keep the Careington Telemedicine plan offered by RVer Insurance that includes a telemedicine service, which gives us access to virtual doctors visits over phone/internet and a discount dental & vision network across the nation. The cost is $149/year for both of us – and we use this far more often than our insurance plan, as finding providers as we travel difficult.
We love telemedicine and highly recommend RVers & coastal cruisers consider it, and have used it for routine ear aches, respiratory infections, etc. Click in their app, a doctor pops up in video chat and a few minutes later a prescription is waiting around the corner. Sure beats trying to find an urgent care center in a new town!
For more information:
- Guide: Healthcare and Health Insurance for RVers
- For information on RVer compatible insurance options, we recommend RVer Insurance.
2018 premiums: $855/mo
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. They’re super cool and we couldn’t be happier with the service we have received from them.
For more information:
- Guide: Mail, Domicile, Registering Vehicles and Voting as a Full Time RVer
- Guide: Moving our Domicile to Florida
Monthly Cost: $20/mo, plus postage & scanning charges
Non-Travel 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. It’s not uncommon for our dining out and grocery bill to be near a grand a month.
Food is part of our social life, and brings us joy and good health.
Laundry & Clothing
Laundry is another consideration. We opted not to make room for a washer/dryer in our RV, and have a washer/dryer combo in the boat (the dryer is pretty useless).
When boating, we generally wash and then hang our clothing out to dry on our flybridge (using the absolute latest in solar and wind technology!).
When RVing, we use mainly public coin laundry facilities. It’s nice to get 2-3 weeks of laundry done in under an hour, and many campgrounds/marinas 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. On a monthly basis, we maybe spend $20 on laundry – its not worth micromanaging.
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.
After all, enjoying the places we visit is what being on the road is about for us.
We enjoy going to events, conferences, rallies, concerts, hot springs, community theatre, musicals, local events (roller derby, festivals, rodeos, etc.) and just embracing what is around us. We like to find at least one ‘touristy’ thing to do in the areas we visit, and we soak up new experiences.
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 able to pay less for a last minute ticket to an unsold out event. 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.
Of course, we also enjoy non-RV adventures and tend to take cruises, fly ‘home’ to family, rent cottages, take cross country train trips and more.
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 or boat may make more sense. So you may need to keep a travel budget for airplanes, hotels, fuel for your vehicle, trains, etc. You know, just like when you lived stationary.
We also don’t list our other major expense: Tech!
You can probably get a good idea that we spend a lot in this realm.
Since our business 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 3 years old and we usually have the latest iGadgets released (we are app developers and need to test on the latest and greatest after all).
Saving for the future, investing and giving
We are actively saving and investing for the future.
We have retirement funds & investments we manage and contribute towards – and pretty much have a baseline retirement already put away (a benefit of being a dual income child free nomadic household for over a decade). And we put aside cash into an emergency fund for covering the reasonably unexpected.
If we really wanted to cut back to a minimalist lifestyle we could probably manage early retirement at this point. Instead, since we love what we do – we’ve opted to work a while longer and be a bit indulgent (like pursuing our boating dreams). Because life is short and we have a lot of things we want to do! So, a lot of our income goes into a discretionary spending account for adventures, upgrades and fun. When that fund builds up, we go on a little spending spree.
We also are pretty quick to invest in others – supporting innovation, donating to causes we believe in, etc.
Between maintaining our previous income levels, 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.
And all does come down to choices.
Other Full Timer Costs
Here are some links to other full timers who have shared their expenses so that you can get a range of what it might cost:
- RV-Dreams Financial Center – Howard and Linda have shared their budget and expenses for many years, and also offer some sample budgets and worksheets to help you track your expenses.
- Tiny House Blog – Andrew Odom shares a snapshot at one month’s full timing expenses for his family of 3.
- Interstellar Orchard – Solo female RVers Becky Schade shares what her annual expenses are, which comes out to about $1300/month.
- Live. Work. Dream – Jim & Rene share their winter 2014/2015 full time RVing expenses, with links to lots of past articles on the topic.
- WheelingIt – Nina Fussing shares their full timing costs back in 2011.
- Road Less Traveled – Emily & Mark Fagan share their full timing costs, comparatively over their many years on the road.
- Gone with the Wynns – Nikki & Jason Wynn share their costs of full time RVing on a quarterly basis.
- CheapRVLiving – Bob Wells hosts this entire blog/forum/website about living frugally on the road. He shows ways to live for as little as $500/month.
- RVSueandCrew – Solo traveler Sue shares her monthly & fixed expenses regularly on her blog. She lives entirely off her social security and Amazon affiliate sales.
- Hourly America – Heath and Alyssa share their expenses after traveling to 48 states in under a year as part of their project of getting hourly jobs in each state.
- We’re The Russos – Joe & Kait hit the road in late 2015, and are sharing their monthly income & expenses.
- Five in a 5th – This family of 5 shares their monthly average cost of full time RVing after a year on the road.
- RVLove – Julie & Marc shared their RVing costs for a year on the road in a fun infographic.