How to Travel Full-Time Without Busting Your Budget - Intentional Travelers

How to Travel Full-Time Without Busting Your Budget

This is a guest post from Heath and Alyssa Padgett, two newly weds currently visiting all 50 States in their RV while creating a documentary called Hourly America


Most of us dream of traveling the world. It’s a normal fantasy to imagine yourself open and free, seeing all of Earth’s beauties.

Before my wife, 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.

During the month of October, Alyssa and I spent exactly $2,731.42 on 31 days of travel covering 1,000 miles of the east coast.

Every night we slept in our tempurpedic bed, woke up with coffee, and witnessed some of America’s most beautiful sights. We haven’t been exactly “roughing it.”heath and franklin in the fall

These are a few of the things we did during the month of October:

  • Apple picking in Vermont
  • Scenic drives through the Green & White Mountain Ranges
  • Dipping our toes in the Atlantic Ocean in Maine
  • Watching the sunset at Prospect Hill in Massachusetts
  • Visiting New York City (and shopping at Macy’s of course!)
  • Spent a day at Six Flags America
  • Toured the National Mall in Washington DC
  • Toured Hagley Museum, the 1800s era estate of E.I. DuPont
  • Bought Christmas decorations on Halloween and covered our RV in twinkling lights
  • Followed the changing leaves down from Vermont to Virginia

Would you pay $3,000 in order to see all of that? I would do it again in a heart beat.

In comparison to the typical American Vacation:

Last year for Christmas we took a vacation to New York City. It was an incredible week, but for the entire week we spent $3k and only experienced one city. And $3k for a week long vacation in NYC at Christmas time was a bargain! We bought our tickets months ahead of time and reserved our hotel room through Groupon. The average week long vacation for two people can easily run you $5,000.

Now we’re able to see America, all of America, and our dollar is being stretched four times what we spent during one week on vacation. If you’re thinking about doing some long-term traveling, this will be a great introduction while planning your trip.

Saving Money on: Food while traveling

Total spent on food during month of October: $403.61

Eating out: $41.40

Groceries: $362.21

The first area we really cut back on is eating out, this is one of the largest expenses for most people while traveling. During the month of October, we limited meals out to 41 bucks. Most of those costs are quick cups of coffee or a shared meal. Because my wife is gluten-free, we have an extra incentive to stay at home and cook instead of going out.

Always eating “in” looks like this:

Breakfast:

  • Eggs, sausage, and toast
  • Eggs, bacon, hash browns, and tortillas for breakfast tacos
  • Smoothies
  • Gluten free homemade pancakes

Lunch:

  • Sandwiches
  • Quesadillas
  • Dinner leftovers
  • Sometimes I splurge and eat the $1 Totinos Pizzas while Alyssa makes stir fry out of leftover rice and veggies

Dinner:

  • Chicken, broccoli, and baked potato
  • Salmon, asparagus, and rice
  • Burgers, french fries
  • Spaghetti
  • Tacos

Snacks:

Most meals you can cook in a home you can cook in an RV. The point is, we don’t skimp on eating well and we spend very little for our meals.

Takeaways: 

  1. Don’t eat out if possible. Eggs, bacon, milk, and a loaf of bread that last a week cost the same as one dinner plate at a cheap restaurant.
  2. Use Pinterest to make homemade versions of your favorite meals. Alyssa often modifies this recipe to make Pei Wei Style Kung Pao Chicken
  3. Keep snacks handy when driving! Little snack stops add up fast.

Saving Money on: Lodging

Total spent on lodging for month of October: $453.23

Average nightly spend: 14.62

Our monthly goal is to also stay five nights per month with friends or family along the trip. This saves us around $150/month and keeps our average nightly spend low. During the month of October, we stayed BLANK nights free by parking our RV in driveways and staying with strangers/family.

When we stay in RV parks we always use Good Sam or Passport America. Both are discount programs for campers. Good Sam offers a 10% discount and is available at about 80% of campsites across the entire country (based on our six months of travel). Passport America sites are a little more difficult to find, but they offer a 50% off rate for a yearly fee of on $50. Purchasing Passport America paid for itself in two nights of camping.

The most we’ve ever paid for a single night of camping was during the month of October, spending $50 to stay at a KOA outside of Philadelphia (using our 10% Good Sam discount). We try to completely avoid KOAs and other chain campgrounds due to higher prices and a “corporate” camping feeling.

We spent several nights in state parks where the average price is around $20/night or less. State parks offer more privacy than RV parks and it feels more like nature camping. We find it’s easier to talk and meet people in a park-like atmosphere. The downside is there is no guarantee of showers, electricity, or other amenities offered by an RV park. When we need to wash our laundry, empty our holding tank, and get some work done over Wifi we go to RV parks. When we’re tired of the city, we escape to state parks.

Saving money on: Fitness and Entertainment

Gym membership total for two people: 43.40 a month

Buying a membership to Planet Fitness was one of the smartest investments we made before leaving Austin. At $20/month/person it’s dirt cheap to hold onto. Plus, Planet Fitness has more than 800 locations across the United States.

Why is all of this important?

Well, one luxury you miss out on while traveling in an RV is a great shower. If for no other reason, our membership to “P-Fit” allows us to have an awesome shower. We also can get a decent work out in on a semi-regular basis, which is often a struggle during travel, and they have free access to massage chairs and this heavenly device called a Hydro-Bed. For us, Planet Fitness is more than a gym, it’s a familiar place when you’re in a new city where you’re guaranteed a hot shower, a massage chair, and free tootsie rolls.

Note: We are not paid to endorse Planet Fitness—their massage chairs are just that life changing.

National Park Pass: $80.00, one year membership

I’d visited some national parks before our trip, but now I’ve visited the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and a score of national parks across the country with our national park pass. Most parks charge an entrance fee that can range from $2-$30. We invested in a park pass early in June which quickly paid for itself.

Seeing national parks, in my opinion, is a better way to travel than simply going from city to city. Once you pay your way into the park you can do a lot of activities for free. Hiking, swimming, and sight seeing are some of our favorite parts of traveling. Plus, the beauty you find is stunning.

Saving money on: Gas

Total spent on fuel during month of October: $574.06

This is by far going to be your largest expense while traveling across America, hands down. There isn’t much way around spending a lot of money on gas. However, there are some things you can do.

  • Travel in the off seasons! Gas in October cost over a dollar less than July. (This could also be the difference between east and west coast prices)
  • Download an app like Gasbuddy that tells you where cheap gas is near your location
  • Get a membership card to a place like Kroger or Randalls and receive discounts on your gas
  • Fill up primarily at grocery stores (so much cheaper)
  • When exiting the highway, drive a mile down the road instead of filling up at the pump nearing highway and save up to ten cents per gallon

Like I said before, our total expenditures for the month of October totaled $2,731.42. I won’t bore with the details of how much we spent on toll roads (that number would appall you), parking, donating to a non-profit, and a Spotify membership. But I will tell you a big ticket items for the month:

  • Our Verizon bill for one “family” iPhone and a Jetpack: $184.64
  • Three-years of web hosting with Blue Host: $143.28
  • A new refrigerator after ours broke: $262.70
  • RV Maintenance: $160.50

These are a few of the areas where we save the most money while traveling. I hope they were helpful and you can work them into your travel life whether you’re another full time RV’er or someone dreaming of roadtripping across the country!natl parks

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