How Do You Afford to Travel Anyway?
We get this question a lot. I completely understand why people are curious and I want to demystify this to an extent. Talking about personal finances is always awkward so I’ll tell you how we cut costs in order to save for travel and live the lifestyle we want!
In case you’re new to the blog, I’ll give a quick recap. Devon and I are currently full-time traveling by RV in our 1988 Chevy Van 30 RV. We took a year off of work to travel North and Central America with our pets. Prior to this trip, we took every available vacation day from our jobs and traveled as much as we could. From Southern Africa to Europe and the United States, we were scouring the internet for flight deals as a hobby.
Now, before this year long trip our lifestyle looked pretty typical of 30-somethings. We owned a house, 2 newer cars, and commuted about 2 hours a day. We both had decent paying jobs by Canadian standards but were by no means “rich” by those same standards. On closer inspection though, there were deliberate choices we made that helped us save for and prioritize our travels which I’ll go through now!
One of the biggest ways we were able to save for travel was by cutting out rent and getting a small mortgage on a house. Instead of the large house we could’ve qualified to buy right in the city (which would have stretched our monthly budget significantly), we ended up buying a small house an hour away. Our mortgage was less than half of what I was paying in rent when I had an apartment in Halifax before we moved in together. Even when you add in other home ownership costs (maintenance, heat, taxes, etc…) we were still saving money and had the bonus of dual income.
How can you apply this principle? Triple check your housing costs. Are there small sacrifices you could make to end up in a cheaper place? For us, that meant very long commutes (for our area at least). Do you have a second bedroom you could rent out? Would insulating your house save on heat? Are there other apartments nearby that are cheaper? Even if you can save $50 a month, that’s $600 a year which could easily pay for a flight to Europe.
When we moved into our house, this was also the first place we lived in together. Our furniture didn’t match, and most of it was from our college days. Our dining room table was a rickety old pressboard table that Devon bought years before for $30 CAD. But, throw a tablecloth over it, and it we were good to go for when family came over. Our bedframe was built using discard wood cuts that Devon’s dad had in his shop. It was not pretty, but it got us up off the floor and was free. To us, this was an easy way to save money. Not investing in things we didn’t need. If something was functional, it stayed.
How can you apply this principle? Really evaluate if you need to buy those matching chairs for your dining room or if you can make do with what you currently have. Our kitchen chairs consisted of one wooden bar stool, 2 fold up plastic chairs and one wooden antique chair I had for years. Of course, it’s nice to have good looking furniture. I love watching home design shows and I get that. It’s a choice. For some it might make sense to invest $600 in a new dining room set but for us we would prefer a weekend in New York City for that cost. Other ways to save in this area is to look on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, Kijiji (to either sell what you don’t need or buy something second hand!).
I am lucky that my full time job does not require me to wear “work clothes”. In a workplace where anything goes, I didn’t have to spend a lot of money on business clothing. Because I work in recruitment, I have a few professional outfits tucked away for career fairs but most often I could wear jeans. Rather than investing in trendy clothing each season, we keep our wardrobe minimal. When my friends go clothing shopping, I generally sit that trip out. When I would occasionally go, it was fun to help them find things but I wouldn’t feel pressured to pick up anything unless I really needed it.
My workplace puts on a lot of parties and the majority of the women I work with will wear a new dress to each event. It’s always a lot of fun and I did this for the first few also. But even if I spent $100 on each dress, that’s between $200-300 a year (one for each party), and I’ve worked there since 2011. That adds up fast! This did sometimes make me feel like I was missing out. I love fashion so much I even studied it in university for three years! But what I love more than fashion is traveling.
How can you apply this principle? Assess your wardrobe, do you really need another sweater/dress/pair of jeans? Could you make do with what you have? Invest in quality pieces that will last longer. That $10 T-Shirt from H&M that shrinks after the first wash might be cheap initially but you’ll have to keep replacing it. Also, before buying a new piece of clothing, ask yourself if you really need it. Take a day to think about it if you can or keep the receipt at the very least.
Eventually we realized that having 2 car payments was not really necessary. We both worked in the same city and worked similar hours. We downsized to just one car and saved hundreds of dollars each month. This had its inconveniences for sure. If one of us wanted to go out with our friends, the other would have to hang around the city until they were ready. If one of us had to work late, same thing. Living outside of the city also affected our social life. We weren’t always available short notice for get togethers and we had to pre-plan most of our social time more than our friends did. We adapted and so did our friends.
Stop Buying Things that are Designed to be Thrown Away
There are a whole range of household products that are designed for you to buy, and then promptly throw out. Things like paper towels for example. Lets do a little break down that will show you how we think about these things! On Amazon Canada right now, a 6 pack of Bounty brand paper towels costs $13.56 CAD. Each roll has 100 sheets. Lets say you go through a roll a week (we have 2 cats and a dog, some people have young kids or cook a lot which means this could reasonably be the case or perhaps you could use even more than one roll a week). So that’s $2.26 a roll, multiply that by 52 weeks and you’re spending $117.52 a year on something that you’re just going to throw out. Invest that into something you’ll only have to buy once! I have 2 towels that are for animal messes/accidents. One towel for Goof when she’s muddy or wet. We use reusable napkins during meals. Facecloths and dishcloths work for everything else. Use paper towels to clean your windows? Switch to paper flyers/newspaper instead. It works just as well, and you get it for free.
This is just one example, but assess your spending! How much are you spending on things that you actually place in the garbage after? Napkins and paper towels are just one example. We also cut down on cleaning products. I used to buy 4-5 different cleaners that were all geared towards just the bathroom, and then another host of cleaners for the kitchen and so on. Each of these cleaners were around $5. I switched to one all-purpose cleaner that was also safer for my home and my pets (I really like The Honest Company’s all purpose spray). Either get one all purpose cleaner, or make your own mixes with vinegar, lemon, etc…
The Dreaded Budgeting Word
We owe a lot of our ability to save for travel to a budgeting app that we found pretty early on in our relationship together. YNAB or You Need a Budget, is an app that you can use to track your spending and budget so that you know exactly where your money is going. It forces you to examine your spending habits which is a sure way to lead to change. I’m not trying to pitch you on this, just know that it helped (and stills helps!) us immensely. Check it out for yourself to see if its something that might work for you. Its a bit intense to set up at first but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be saving money like never before. There are tons of other budgeting apps, the key is to force yourself to look at your spending each month. Budget your money and hold yourself accountable.
Restaurants and Food Budget
This is one of those areas we still struggle with. We both love to try new foods and going out to eat is something we love to do. When we were commuting it was so easy for us to pull over and grab something quick to get us on our way. Coffees, breakfast sandwiches and drive thru dinners were our weakness. We eventually got it in line but even now there is room for improvement! We make most of our meals in the RV now that we’re traveling. When we do splurge, it’s on local fare like Cajun in Louisiana, BBQ in Texas and that kind of thing.
Other things that help us bring down the food bill is limiting meat consumption. I’m vegetarian but Devon isn’t. Most of our meals are plant based and he will occasionally eat meat that he finds on sale. He doesn’t feel restricted but this is an easy way to save money also. Also, cooking from scratch! We make a lot of our own food that a lot of people would buy. We make our own pasta for pennies. English muffins, breads, pizza dough and the occasional dessert are much cheaper when you make it yourself and it’s delicious! Rather than buying canned beans and chickpeas, I buy them dried which is significantly cheaper and only takes a bit more effort to cook. There are lots of ways to save on food, these are just some of the ways that work for us.
Other Entertainment Costs
Cable TV: A big expense for a lot of people is Cable. One of my friends was paying upwards of $300 CAD/month for internet and cable combined and some plans are more expensive than that. We minimized this for two reasons. One, we could get by on a high speed internet only package for $50 CAD/month. Two, by not having cable TV, we were a lot more productive.
Netflix: We ended up canceling our Netflix account when we realized we gravitated more to YouTube than Netflix anyway. This was an easy way to save 10 bucks a month. There are a few TV shows we absolutely wanted to watch, and for that we were able to use our Prime Video account through Amazon. If you have a prime membership, you also have Prime Video. For a low fee you get priority shipping, access to prime video, unlimited photo storage (don’t pay Apple for extra storage space for all those dog photos when you get it already with your prime membership, haha!), and other worthwhile benefits.
One of the biggest expenses Devon had was smoking. He had been smoking for 10 years and smoked 2 packs every 3 days. Each pack was on average $12 CAD. So he was spending around $240 a month just on cigarettes. Add that up for the year and he was spending nearly $3000. Add that up over 10 years, and well, that’s too scary to think about! Quitting was not easy but he made it a priority and has been smoke free for nearly 3 years!! I couldn’t be more proud of him for overcoming this.
How Does it All Add Up?
I know this might not work for everyone but hopefully this information at least got you thinking about how you could potentially cut down your expenses in order to prioritize what’s important to you. These are just some of the things we did in order to travel. We still have bills and no one is funding our trips apart from ourselves. Fast forward to now, we had to make some big changes in order to afford this year long trip. We sold our house, sold our car, and sold most of the things we owned. We cut our costs even further so that we could finance this trip. Perhaps in the future we will go more in detail on that.
I hope this was helpful! If you have any questions, let us know.