Money Matters

Can I afford to travel?

Probably, yes. While I can't speak to every individual's financial situation, I can make some important observations about money and priorities.

  • You need less than you think you do. If you have a car payment, sell it and buy used. If you have a mortgage that is too big, it might be that your house is too big. If you need a big house because you have lots of stuff, you probably have too much stuff. Sell it. Give it away. You will feel better and lighter. Lori and I are pack rats to a point. We can't bear to get rid of things that hold memories. Gifts that our kids gave us, favorite toys they played with as children, my old hockey skates in case I take up playing again, and so on. All of this is stacked in our garage of our rented house while we travel. And when we get home, guess what? We don't open the boxes.

  • You can (probably) work remotely. If you are part of the information economy and have any sort of position involving a screen, there is a growing chance you can do it from just about anywhere. This has been true for some time, but Covid greatly accelerated the acceptance of it. If your boss still won't let you go remote, find another company in the same industry that will. You will need to stay connected on the road. For help on that topic, check out RVmobileinternet.com. If you are in a trade or do work that does still require a physical, hands-on presence, consider that you may be able to apply your skills on the road, or in trade for free accommodations. Check out Workamper as an example. There are many more sites and organizations like this. The point being, where there is a will, there is probably a way.

  • You can sell or rent your house or apartment. This one scares people. They think "but where will we live if we want to come off the road?" Or "I don't like the idea of someone living in my home." Those feelings are understandable. But consider that the money you make in rent may exceed what it costs you to live for a month on the road in accommodations and food. In other words, you may get to travel, and make a profit at the same time. We have done that many times. If you don't own a home, dump the rent payment and use that to travel on. Put your (reduced amount of) stuff in friends' basements or attics (though don't tell them I told you to). Don't pay for storage if you can help it. When you are ready to come off the road, rent a new place.

What does it cost to travel?

There is of course no absolute answer to this. Everyone has to choose their own level of comfort. Some destinations cost more than others. How long you travel for will also play a big part in the budget. Some observations I will offer here:

  • Learn to travel close to the ground. What does this mean? You can get used to a 2 star or 3 star hotel. It might not be what you would choose for your honeymoon or your vacation, but you can adapt to it for your day to day if it fits your budget. We once slept on a concrete slab that was our bed in a guest room in India. A turtle walked in to check us out while we were attempting sleep. That's pushing it. But we were staying in, and usually enjoying, budget accommodations on that trip. We also took advantage of the cold war having just ended in Slovakia to stay in Grand Hotels with 3-course meals for about $10 a day. In Thailand we stayed right on the beach for $4 a night. This isn't only good for your credit card bill, it's also typically a better way to actually experience the culture you are in. The same goes for eating out. Depending on the country, we try to do at least 2 meals a day out of the market and only one eating out. We go to bistros and cafes, rarely to expensive restaurants (unless we are splurging to have a unique travel experience of some sort, which dining definitely can be). If we're in Paris, we might not eat out at all. If we're in a small village in France, we might eat out a lot.

  • Moving is expensive. By and large, it won't be your bed and board that drives up your costs the most. It's getting from point A to point B. Trains, planes and automobiles are the biggest ticket items when you travel. There isn't much of a way around this unless you are providing your own transportation by hiking or biking. Lori and I tend toward a pretty aggressive schedule, typically only staying 2 to 3 nights in a place before our wanderlust gets the best of us and we want to see the next place (the world is really big and very interesting). This is more expensive. If you are the sort of person that is content to spend 2 weeks, or a month, in the same village and becoming a regular at the cafe while you perfect your travel Spanish, you'll save money.

  • Minimize recurring expenses. As noted above, don't pay rent or a mortgage that isn't covered by someone else's rent. Don't maintain a car payment. Don't keep your Netflix subscription, your Costco membership, or your Amazon Prime membership if you're not using them right now.

  • You will need Healthcare. If you are a U.S. Citizen and not fortunate enough to be Canadian or Swedish, this is a challenge. On our first trip around the world way back when, our health care insurance for the full year cost $1200. Now that doesn't cover a single month. But shop around. Figure out how you can keep this expense as low as possible. And make sure it covers you if you get dysentery in India, or break your leg in the Greek Isles. There are even plans available expressly for expatriates. You may be able to save money by living outside the U.S. for more than half the year.