Let me be totally honest for a second, there was a time during our travels when our bank account hit $67. It was September 2014 and we had no idea how we would finish our trip to all fifty states. Heck, we had no idea if we would be able to buy groceries.
Heath & Alyssa Padgett
3 MIN READ
Share this experience
The biggest hurdle to traveling is universal: finances.
We don’t know how much travel will cost, how we will make money on the road, or if we’ll max out all our credit cards along the way. Trust me, we started RVing full-time at age 23 and we had absolutely zero ideas on how to make it happen.
Our first month of travel we blew through four grand on our way from Austin, Texas to LA (I blame California gas prices!). There was a steep learning curve to figuring out how to travel more affordably, but I think we’ve finally mastered the balance.
To be completely transparent, here’s a quick summary of our major travel expenses during our first year on the road where we visited every state in the lower 48:
Breakdown of Major Expenses:
One thing I’ll say before getting into the specifics: the cost to start full-time RVing will be different for everyone. It all depends on your spending habits and how much comfort you need to get by.
Are you willing to stay in more state parks and cook a lot of meals in the RV, or do you need to eat out at all of the local restaurants when visiting a new town? There is no right answer, it just depends on your own preferences.
For us, we didn’t have much money to spend. Our goal was to enjoy as much of our surroundings as possible for as little money as possible. Sometimes this meant passing on experiences we would have loved, but it was the tradeoff of covering so much ground in such a small amount of time.
Lodging: $2,710.84 (We kept this low using membership clubs like Passport America)
Gym Membership to Planet Fitness: $344.84
Phone Bill: $1,311.22
Eating Out: $512.88
Adventures (white water rafting, boating around Niagara Falls, etc): $670.73
Total Cost to Drive RV to Lower 48 States: $18,768.85.
All in all, the trip covered 18,280 miles and cost us approximately $1.03/mile, or an average of $2,681 per month.
A Few Major Ways We Cut Costs While on The Road
1. We Rarely Ate Out
You’ll notice above that we spent very little eating out during our first year on the road. This was easier because our kitchen was with us at all times. Plus, we didn’t have a tow car, so when we were adventuring, our kitchen was always close by.
Now, I love to eat out and while traveling to new places, I felt like I was missing out on the culture by not eating local food. However, I also realized that if we wanted to sustain our life on the road, then we needed to cut costs somewhere. I’d prefer to travel indefinitely than eat fancy meals in new towns.
2. We Quit Considering Our Travel as a Vacation
One of the most beneficial things we did was shift our mindset from a vacation lifestyle to a sustainable long term travel lifestyle. This essentially meant that we weren’t going to buy a souvenir at every stop or be sucked into tourist-style entertainment in various spots. The majority of our entertainment would come in the form of an $80 annual national parks pass that we used as often as we could.
3. We Camped for Free as Often as Possible
Whether it was on farms, wineries, public land or driveways, we found ways to camp for free whenever we could. Our original goal was to try and receive 5 nights free per month of lodging, but we hit this goal with relative ease.
After three years of full-time RVing, I’ve also realized that Alyssa and I are on the more “glamorous” camping side of RVers. While we love a few nights of boondocking in a beautiful spot, we also love having full hookups and air conditioning. This means that if you’re willing to rough it a bit more than us, you could find even more free camping opportunities.
A few of our favorite resources to find free camping are:
Google (just search “free camping” near whatever place you’re visiting and you’ll find blogs & resources that will be helpful)
Boondockers Welcome (a website that lists driveways that allow you to park for free)
Extended friends and family who don’t mind you “mooch-docking” in their driveway
Aside from staying for free on BLM or National Forest land or in the occasional Walmart parking lot (not our favorite), we loved staying on wineries or farms. Harvest Hosts is a great membership program that allows you to camp at various farms and wineries across the country and we highly recommend them.
Before Alyssa and I started traveling, I remember sitting in my office looking at travelers’ profiles on Instagram. I wanted to see the world, but I knew it would be forever before that dream would come to fruition. You have to work your whole life in order to make the kind of money you need for travel, right?
I was wrong.
As it turns out, you can travel full-time for much cheaper than you think. I imagined that full-time travel would be similar to a long-term vacation and incur those kinds of costs. A few years ago, we visited New York City. It was an incredible week, but for just five days we spent $3k and only experienced one city!
Now we’re able to travel America full-time and our dollar is being stretched four times what we spent during a one week vacation and we can experience a hundred times more.