Long term or ongoing travel is neither like going on a holiday or living in a house. If both those were on a continuum with one at each end then ongoing travel is somewhere in the middle. The ‘holiday’ end of the continuum is best described as short stays, more eating out, doing regular activities and with no need or thought of having to earn an income while on the road. ‘Living in a home’ end of the continuum more regularly involves stopping for longer periods, the need to earn money while on the road, some activities but perhaps less frequency, and so forth.
Daryl and I live permanently on the road in Australia. We are somewhere almost right in the middle on the continuum. We are currently enjoying a period of ‘holiday’ and will stop to work some time in the new year. The ‘type’ of long term travel as well as our resources including finances has played a huge part in determining our budget for living on the road. This article aims to provide some information and tips on what to think about when deciding a weekly travel budget. Whether you are living or plan to be living on the road or traveling for an extended period of time within Australia with your own accommodation such as caravan, motor home, camper or tent.
I will share how we reached our weekly travel budget amount and how we manage (usually) to keep our expenses within this budget. This article is not about how we are able to fund our life on the road, that is for another day.
Summary of Our Budget
For those interested below is a basic summary of our weekly budget. If you want to see how we are actually spending our money each week see our Wayfaring Budget page.
All tolled our weekly budget is $500 and it is split into three main categories:
- Annual expenses such as insurances, registrations, golf club membership, ambulance cover and so forth. These cost $50 per week when totalled and divided by 52 weeks of the year.
- Expenses for seeing family and friends which we put aside $50 per week. This is to cover costs such as flights, car hire, caravan storage and the like.
- Travel or living expenses which is what we use to pay for everything else while we are wayfaring including but not only food, site costs, tours, gas and fuel. This part of our budget is $400 per week.
It is also worth noting that Daryl and I have money available for when life happens and things do not go as planned. These are funds for the unforeseen like car repairs, unexpected trips home, if Chika needs to see the vet or anything else the universe throws our way. Due to their unpredictably we do not include them in our weekly budget.
Deciding a Weekly Budget
This isn’t particularly easy or straight forward. Everyone’s needs, wants and priorities are different – where you want your ‘type’ of travel to sit on the continuum and your resources also come into play. It comes down to some sums and decisions you have to make for yourself. However I would say when first considering your budget it is helpful to think about:
- What are your priorities when you are traveling? Are you willing or wanting to work? How often?
- If it is not feasible for you to be on the road indefinitely, how long can or do you want to be traveling for?
- Consider whether or not you want or need to stay in caravan parks or the like with amenities? Are free or low cost options something you will consider? Which is your preferred option and if you are happy to do a mix what is it likely to look like?
- Do some research on your preferred campsite options. What is a paid site likely to cost per night or week for the number of people in your party? Are free or low cost sites readily available?
- How many paid activities you want to do? How important are tours to you? Or going to attractions? Doing local activities? If these are particularly important to you then research the costs of things that interest you. Decide if you are willing to prioritise what things to do or will you want to do it all?
- What is your current weekly food and grocery costs? Don’t just guess, actually go through your records (bank accounts and or receipts) and add it all up. We found Daryl was spending much more with additional shops than either of us had realised.
- How often do you want to be able to eat out or have takeaway? Is this important to you? Would it be occasionally? Or do you want to never have to cook a meal? What is a meal likely to cost? Will you buy drinks? Desserts?
- Determine how fast you need or want to travel and estimate distances will need to be traveled to achieve this. Work out your vehicle consumption and then estimate your likely fuel costs.
- Check your records and determine your expenses for things like insurance, registrations, health cover and so forth and add them all up.
- Do you or anyone in your traveling party have health or other additional needs that come with added expenses? If so what are the costs?
- Consider what additional expenses may come up. What if the axle in your car breaks? How will you fund the repairs? What if you need to return home suddenly or for something planned like a wedding?
- Are momentos of your travels important to you? Will you want to shop regularly for things like clothes, gifts or anything else people like to buy? Brainstorm and then do your best research and estimate your expenditure.
- Are you traveling with a pet/s? If so, what are the likely expenses to keep them fed, watered and healthy while you travel? Do you have pet insurance? What funds would you need for an emergency trip to the vet?
- Do you smoke? How much does your habit cost? Do you drink? How much do you want to drink? What is it likely to cost?
- Do you have hobbies or interests you want to be able to continue? Subscriptions or memberships?
- Anything else?
In answering the above ourselves the best Daryl and I could determined was:
- We wanted to live on the road with no end date and for it to be our way of life hence ‘Our Wayfaring Life.’
- We needed to be able to fund our wayfaring well into the future and not just for a few weeks or months.
- While we know eventually we will have to work from time to time, initially we both want to have a work free period of about 6 months and to do this we have to rely on our savings.
- It is important that we live within our means and we do not build up credit card debt or remortgage our house to fund our wayfaring life.
- That we have a budget that does not cause stress or that we are depleting our funds too quickly.
- That it is vital Josephine (our van) is equipped with essentials we need such as cooking equipment, linen, power, fridges and so on, so we can be self reliant and self contained and keep our costs down.
- Free or low cost camping is our preferred option but we will pay when it makes sense to do so.
- Because we are on the road indefinitely we can travel slowly and traveling slowly means we can put some limits on our fuel expenses.
- We are experienced budget travelers and know we can easily do things like cook rather than eat out to save money, wear the same clothes for months and months and make do with very little possessions.
- Is it important to us that we support local businesses by buying our fresh produce, bread and meat from them rather than supermarket chains. We understand this is likely to cost a bit more but our values tell us this is fair especially if the community has provided free or low cost camping.
- Paid tours and the like, for the most part, are not important to us so we only do a very select few. We also know how to hunt out a bargain or deal when we need to.
- Our favourite activities including snorkeling, swimming and walking/hiking can usually be done for free or little cost and we have what we need to do these.
- We enjoy days where we can make time to do things like read, fish, write our blog and enjoy our surroundings.
- We have little to no interest in souvenirs or buying stuff. Sure there are times we need to purchase things in addition to food or fuel but it is limited and we can prioritise what we need from what we want.
- Neither of us smoke. We enjoy the occasional drink. Me more than Daryl but if it has to be forgone to meet the budget then so be it.
- It is important to Daryl he keeps playing golf. Important to me I can replenish my books.
In the end we decided our weekly travel budget. I can say that getting to our final budget amount took a number of discussions about priorities and needs as well as a whole lot of playing with sums before we got there.
It is likely your first budget estimate may be much higher than you had hoped. It may even have you convinced the idea of long term travel is not achievable. Not true. There is no right or wrong weekly budget amount. It is about assessing and reassessing what is important to you. We know a retired couple traveling on $300/wk all inclusive and we have read about others spending $1500/wk. You have to decide your own budget amount, what you feel comfortable with, what is achievable as well as how strictly you will need to stick to it.
Tips for Managing to Your Weekly Budget
1. Pay Yourself Weekly
By ‘pay yourself weekly’ I mean transfer on the same day each week into a spending account and keep your savings in a separate account ie have two accounts. Daryl and I have one account with our savings and a second as our spending account. Each Monday our savings account is set up to automatically transfer $400 into our spending account. We won’t touch our savings account unless it’s draw on funds to see family or friends or for one of those unforeseen events.
By having the $400 in a separate account, using our bank’s app we can easily see and track our spending for the week. It helps us to make decisions as the week progresses about what we prioritise to spend our money on. Also helps us to prevent overspending or to lose track of our spending. We can very easily see each day how much money is left.
2. Plan and Budget for the Week Ahead
Each Sunday Daryl and I think about and plan for the week ahead and allocate funds from our $400 week as best we can. An upcoming weekly budget estimate may look like:
Tour Savings $45
Golf Game $25
Rtn overspend $17
We try not to allocate every cent. Travel is about flexibility and living in the moments.
3. ‘Save’ and Repay Overspending
‘Save’ means out of your weekly travel budget put aside money each week to pay for tours or activities and for regular expenses like mobile/internet and gas. When required draw on these ‘savings’ to pay for them. This prevents budget blow outs in any one week and spreads the costs out over each week.
We also put aside any money not spent each week towards the savings for tours and activities. For example if we spend $380 of our $400 travel budget, an additional $20 goes towards savings for tours and activities. It all adds up.
‘Repay Overspending’ is where we go over budget in a week. If this happens and sometimes it will, we deduct that amount from the next week’s budget and pay it back into our main savings. Reason we do this is to keep ourselves in check. It is easy enough to say it is just a few dollars here or there however over time it becomes a habit and it adds up. Luckily we have only gone over budget once to the grand sum of $17.
4. Keep a Track of Your Spending
Our expenses can be divided into five main categories ‘campground or site fees’, ‘food’, ‘fuel’, ‘activities’ and ‘other’ such as gas, mobile phone use and miscellaneous items. Of course you may want to use more or less categories but the important thing here is to understand where your money is being spent each week. For all the planning in the world your budget will still need some flexibility and to be closely monitored.
Each Sunday we go back over our week using our bank account and add up how much we spent under the different categories. If we feel we are overspending in one we discuss why and ideas to reduce it.
Traveling or living on the road is a privilege. It doesn’t however have to be the privilege of a select few who are cashed up passed their eyebrows. In fact once you get on the road you very quickly meet people of all ‘budgets’ traveling. What got them there was they found ways to make their resources including finances or budget work for them. Hopefully this article has given you some food for thought on the same.