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. ‘Living in a home’ end more regularly involves stopping for longer periods, the need to earn money, some activities but perhaps less frequently.
Daryl and I live permanently on the road in Australia. We are somewhere in the middle of the continuum. We are currently enjoying a period of ‘holiday’ and stop to work for varying lengths of time as we travel around. Our way of travelling long term travel as well as our resources 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. I will also 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.
All tolled our weekly budget is around $600 and it is split into three main categories:
- Annual expenses such as insurances, registrations, golf club membership, ambulance cover, charity donation and so forth.
- Expenses for seeing family and friends 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.
It is also worth noting that Daryl and I have an emergency fund for unforeseen events such as car repairs, unexpected trips home, emergency vet bills for our dog Chika or any other such thing the universe decides to throw our way. Due to their unpredictably we do not include them in our weekly budget. And in fact, since originally writing this article we have had to use a significant chunk of this fund to purchase another tow vehicle when our original vehicle Walter died. If we hadn’t have had this money it really could have stopped our travels and that would have been devastating.
Deciding a Weekly Budget
This isn’t particularly easy or straight forward with everyone’s needs, wants and priorities differing greatly. Your weekly travel budget will be dependant on where you want your ‘type’ of travel to be on the continuum and what resources you have. It is best decided from the choices you make about the type of travel you want to do and how much funds you want to put towards it.
Here are some things to consider when thinking your budget:
- What are your priorities when you are travelling? 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 travelling 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 travelled to achieve this. Work out your vehicle consumption and then estimate your likely fuel costs. Then double it for incidental car trips, fuel price rises and because fuel is always a massive chunk of your budget when travelling around Australia.
- 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 travelling 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 mementos 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 travelling 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 knew we would eventually 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 had to use 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 this means we can put some limits on our fuel expenses.
- We are experienced budget travellers 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 kayaking, snorkelling, swimming and walking/hiking can usually be done for free or little cost and we have our own equipment needed 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 travelling on $300 per week all inclusive and we have read about others spending $1500 per week. 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 Your Weekly Travel Budget
Pay Yourself Weekly
By ‘pay yourself weekly’ I mean each week, on the same day, transfer into your spending account the amount you have decided for your weekly budget and keep your savings in a separate account. In other words have two accounts – a savings account and a spending account. This is what Daryl and I have do with Mondays being the day we transfer our weekly spending money from our savings into our spending account.
By having our weekly spending money in a separate account to our savings, 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 when it comes to spending our money. We have found this way of keeping our spending money and savings separate helps us to reduce the likelihood of us overspending and we keep better track of where our money is being spent. Also at the end of each day we can easily see how much money is left from our weekly budget.
Plan and Budget for the Week Ahead
Each Sunday Daryl and I think about and plan for the week ahead. We then decide roughly how to allocate funds from our budget for the week. An upcoming weekly budget estimate may look like:
- Food $150
- Petrol $150
- Mobile $45
- Gas $25
- Coolant $30
- Museum Visit $30
- Campground Donation $20
We try not to allocate every cent. Travel is about flexibility and living in the moments.
Spread Out Costs and Repay Overspending
Just like normal life there are regular ongoing costs besides food and fuel. For us these are gas, mobile/internet and oil for the car (not that he is using it, Daryl just likes to change it every 5000 kilometres). Your regular ongoing costs could include the same or something else. Something you can do, especially if your weekly travel budget is fairly strict or tight, is each week take a small amount out of your weekly budget and put it aside for these things then use this money to pay for them when needed. This can help to prevent budget blow outs in any one week by spreading the the costs out over each week.
Another is each week on your Pay Yourself day to top up so your spending account has your decided weekly spending amount. By this I mean if your budget is $500 per week and you have $50 left in your spending account transfer $450 from your savings account bringing your spending account back up to $500. Do this rather than simply transferring another $500 which would bring your spending account to $550. By only transferring the $450 this means you will have ‘saved’ $50 towards travelling for longer. Do this over a number of weeks and it 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.
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, ideas to reduce it or how to adjust to it.
Travelling 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’ travelling. 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.
Post originally written and published: 26 December 2017
Edited and republished: 11 December 2019