How To Afford Full-time Travel

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Money. We all need it, but we hate to talk about it. In fact, most people are worried about being judged for having too much money, not making enough money, or not managing their money well. That’s why when you search around the internet for how to afford full-time travel, you get a lot of really basic information without any deep dives into the topic. And that’s where this article is going to be different. I’ll talk about budgeting, saving, earning, and putting a little away for a rainy day. By the time you finish reading this, I hope you’ll have no doubts about how you can manage to live your dreams out on the open road.

Creating a Realistic Budget

A budget is only helpful if you use it, and the best way to do that is to make it personal. What that means if you are going to have to spend some time thinking about what your dream RV life is like. Everyone is different. We all have our preferences and if you don’t consider them when you create your budget, you’ll never be able to stick to it.

So let’s take a look at some of the expenses that every RVer has and how they may vary from person to person.

The Most Variable

Every RV traveler experiences these three costs: fuel, campgrounds, and entertainment. However, the amount you spend in each category can vary quite a bit. The first is fuel. Motorized RVs aren’t known for great fuel mileage, neither are trucks that pull towable RVs. Typically, the larger the RV, the less miles per gallon you’ll get. But it doesn’t stop there.

Budgeting often works best if done in advance on a monthly basis.  So, ask yourself when planning for your fuel allowance, how often do you plan to move that month? How many miles will those moves entail? Then you can use an app or website like Gas Buddy to estimate how much gas will cost in the area you plan to travel to next month. This is highly variable. Right now, the different between regular gas in Tampa, Florida and San Diego, California is $1.67. In a 30 – 50-gallon tank, that adds up! You can also use Gas Buddy to check the price of diesel and propane.

Don’t forget your “driving around town” mileage as well. We have a fifth wheel, which means we have the extra expense of a gas guzzlin’ truck as our daily driver. Our fuel expenses range from $300 – $800 per month. The good news is we are always in control of that and there are ways to save, which I discuss later in this article.

The next variable expense is campgrounds. Now you might be thinking, “I’m not going to stay in campgrounds. I want to boondock!” That’s wonderful. We really enjoy boondocking. However, I don’t know many people who do it exclusively so you’re probably going to need a line item in your RV life budget for campgrounds at least some of the time.

The next expense is the cost of campgrounds, also ranges significantly. You have public campgrounds like state parks, national parks, and Corps of Engineer campgrounds that can be fairly low cost, typically around $20 a night. I say typically because it also varies depending on the part of the country. For example, two state parks in the Florida Keys are $48 a night. Privately owned campground prices typically vary depending on location, amenities, and season. We’ve stayed at a small mom & pop campground with no frills in Arkansas for $26 a night and Walt Disney World’s Fort Wilderness Resort for $136 a night.

I think entertainment expenses is one category that ends up busting the budget for many RV travelers. That is because you’re traveling the country, ending up in a bunch of really cool places and if you’re like me you want to do ALL the things! I remember one of our first stops when we became full-time RVers. It was in Sarasota, Florida. We went zip lining and parasailing, we visited the Ringling Museum, and we paid $10 a day to park at the beach. Needless to say, that did not continue after we tallied the receipts. Now we budget in advance by making a list of activities for each destination and then prioritize so that we can stay within our allotted budget.

The great thing about the budget is you make all the decisions.  You decide how far you want to travel, how often you want to boondock or splurge on RV resorts, and how much you want to spend on fun and games. The most important thing is that you make these decisions in advance.

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The Most Overlooked: Internet & Maintenance

When planning for full-time RV travel there are two expenses that are very different from a more recreational travel style and those are internet and maintenance. And it is important to know that neither are cheap.

If you need good, reliable internet to work from the road, you’ll need to invest in gear and will typically pay a monthly fee for your data. Cellular data is the most common and most full-time RVers invest in a good cellular signal booster. Most full-time RVers will also have more than one cellular provider so that you have back up wherever you are traveling. Finally, it is important to note that you may need a hot spot with its own plan, rather than relying only on your phones. This is because while your internet data plan on your phone is “unlimited,” it is often throttled at a certain amount of usage.

Maintenance is an expense category that is overlooked because of manufacturer and extended warranties. The thing you might not realize is that it is highly unusual for a warranty to cover preventive maintenance. That means you’ll be paying for your own oil changes, generator maintenance, and even new tires. Even with repairs that are covered by warranty you may have out of pocket expenses like a visit fee for mobile repair techs or a hotel if you have to leave your RV at the shop. The bottom line is, make sure to include a line for maintenance. You can estimate your annual cost, divide by 12 and put that amount away each month.

Savings

In our six years of full-time RV travel, we’ve met of a lot of people. Inevitably we’ll spend time around the campfire and start sharing our RV war stories. They usually stories of expensive mistakes and mishaps. For us they have ranged from $500 to fix a broken tooth (that’s after our insurance) to $6,000 to repair water damage in a slide that was not covered by warranty or insurance. We know of folks who paid to store their RV and fly home for a family emergency and that was less expensive than driving their RV clear across the country. You know Murphy’s Law? Things will go wrong at the worst possible time. Plan for it in your budget and it will save a lot of heartache.

Reducing Costs

At this point you may be feeling a little discouraged thinking that you might not be able to afford full-time RV travel. Never fear! There are many ways to reduce some of these expenses.

  • Fuel – The biggest tip I give people is to use Gas Buddy. This will allow you to find the best deals on gas, diesel, and propane in a local area. When we were in Tucson last year, the price of diesel varied by $0.80 a gallon in a 5 mile area. We also saved significantly on propane by driving a mile instead of filling it at the campground. Remember, if it is convenient, it typically costs more. When you are on the road, you can save on fuel by slowing down. There are some studies that show if you cut your speed by 10 miles per hour, can improve fuel efficiency by up to 25%, particularly with a diesel engine.
  • Campgrounds – You can obviously save on campgrounds by avoiding them and boondocking, but if you’re a glamper like me that won’t work all year. We save on campgrounds by staying a little longer. Many privately owned campgrounds have discounted weekly and monthly rates. And I’m talking BIG savings. One RV resort we really liked was regularly $60 per night, but with the monthly rate, the cost was $21.33 per night! Some campgrounds have different rates depending on where you are located within the park. Sites at Boyd’s Key West Campground vary by $46 a night based on if you are waterfront or not.
  • Entertainment – One great way to save on entertainment is to find the free stuff. Go hiking or bike riding, enjoy free outdoor summer concerts, and always Google “free museum nights” for the city you’ll be near. Most have a night a month with free or reduced entry. Some do it weekly after 4pm. You can also use the Groupon app or website to find discounts on activities in every city in the country. My favorite activity on the coast is going to the beach, but parking can really add up so we try to stay at state parks that have their own beach or stay at a private campground close enough to ride our bikes.
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Making Money

Unless you’re independently wealthy or win the lottery, you’re probably going to need to continue earning some income while you travel full-time in your RV. The good news is that it has never been easier to work remotely. You will find a lot of great articles about that very subject on this site, but here are just a few examples to show you how realistic it really is.

  • Keep your current job – This is what I did when we decided to sell our house and hit the road. I was not working remotely at the time, but I knew it was possible. I went to my boss with a proposal about six months in advance so we could give it a trial run while I was still in the local area. Now that so many people have been working from home due to the pandemic, it might be even easier for you!
  • Find a remote job – If you aren’t currently in a position that can be performed remotely, do a skills assessment to determine what might be a good fit for you. This is what my husband did. He was managing a hospital laboratory and obviously couldn’t do that from halfway across the country. So, he updated his resume with the skills and experience he had accrued over the years and found a remote laboratory quality control position.
  • Start a business – If you want your time to be more flexible, you may want to consider starting your own business. I did this after 3 years of working from the road as a proposal manager. Basically, I started my own LLC and starting doing contract work for the same company I had been working at. Some people use their skills to work as a consulting in their field. Others start completely new businesses. Just know that starting a business usually entails many more hours in the beginning than you may be working in your 9-5. It is very rewarding and will ultimately result in more freedom and flexibility, but it doesn’t typically start that way.
  • Work Camp – A popular and often seasonal way to earn money on the road is by working for campgrounds or seasonal employers like Amazon, Pumpkin Patches, and even farming (ever heard of the Sugar Beet Harvest?). There are both full-time and part-time positions to be found across the country. You choose what works best for you.

Hopefully, this article has helped you see that you can afford full-time RV travel! All you need to do is just a little planning, and you’ll be able to create a realistic budget that fits your RV lifestyle.

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Author

Julie Chickery | SKP#115094

Julie and her husband, Sean, started traveling in their RV full-time 6 years ago after they each served 20 years in the US Air Force. Having lived in more than 10 states and 4 countries, the Chickerys decided it was time to enjoy the rest of the United States. They manage Chickery’s Travels, an educational and inspirational blog aimed at helping people realize their full-time travel dreams.

7 Responses to “How To Afford Full-time Travel

  • Julie Chickery
    Mike Sherman
    1 month ago

    Fuel and RV parks will be your greatest monthly expense for full time RVing. You can save a small fortune getting free rent/utilities and remaining parked for a season. Sometimes you can earn a paycheck too, so the potential is tremendous, plus you get to learn all about the area you are living in.

  • Julie Chickery
    J. Hand
    1 month ago

    Thank you! Super helpful and great insight

  • I am curious as to whether or not your 5th wheeler and the crew cab dually are free and clear?

    • Hi Jon,

      Yes, our 5th Wheel and truck are fully paid off now. We financed that truck and a different 5th wheel in 2014, but worked hard to pay them off within a few years.

  • Julie Chickery
    Joanie Minton
    1 month ago

    Great Article….Thanks so much…

  • Julie Chickery
    Tracy Baugh
    1 week ago

    Good information about planning ahead. We hope to retire soon and to hit the road.

  • Julie Chickery
    JEFF ALSOP
    1 week ago

    Great article! We did our first 3 month trip last year on our way to becoming full timers [I hope]…and we found out all you say is true! Our problem was a ”vaction mindset”, not a lifestyle one. We wanted to do everything right now and move on, hurry hurry ding ding! Whew! So..this next trip, it will be s l o w d o w n , it will all still be there next time if you mis something…anything over 60mph is a no no….and We got a couple of E-Bikes, that I think will help greatly in leaving the Guzler parked and giving us something that is free and so fun to do, when the way back to camp is straight up!

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