Going from a regular house to living full-time in an Airstream trailer our expenses are changing considerably. Gone are the days of multiple bills for water, sewer, garbage, cable, mortgage, etc. I cannot wait to simplify in this department! While we’ve done a lot of research and have a fairly good idea of what to expect in terms of expenses, we won’t really know until we have a few months under our belt.
You can read more about how we can afford to travel full-time here.
Budgets are very personal things – and are largely dictated by personal choices. We are giving ourselves what feels like a generous budget in terms of RV travel.
Keep in mind – we intentionally paid cash for our truck and trailer – so thankfully this is not a monthly expense for us.
Camping fees – $900
These fees include electrical, water, dump fees and state park passes. We expect this to be higher during the summer when rates are increased and our options are more limited due to crowded campgrounds. Some families spend considerably less by staying at Thousand Trails campgrounds (must purchase membership) but the real savings is staying somewhere 3-4 weeks, which we don’t think appeals to us at this time.
Also, many people opt to boondock (find free camping spots off the grid) but I think initially we’ll be staying in National Parks and campgrounds – until we become more comfortable with this new-to-us nomad lifestyle. Private campgrounds, in particular, can be expensive – and I imagine we’ll stay at these more in the early part of our travel until we become more confident in boondocking or venturing out on our own.
Gas – $500
Average 13 MPG towing
$500 = 166 gallons
166 gallons x 13 mpg = 2,158 miles/month
Groceries/toiletries/household – $600
This is more than our current grocery budget. Limited pantry storage for food, smaller fridge, tiny freeze (no chest freezer) means we’ll be shopping more frequently and due to a lot of remote locations I expect food prices may be higher.
Cell phones, internet – $235
This includes hefty 10 GB data so that can we connect online
Truck and trailer insurance – $200
Note: We have an extensive insurance policy, perhaps more than the average person would choose. When it comes to things like insurance – I’m not a risk taker. We’ve sold our house and everything in it – putting a lot of eggs in this basket of adventures and I don’t want to risk losing that in the event of an accident.
Propane – $50
Laundry – $25
Mail forwarding – $25
Recreation – $200
TOTAL = $2,735/month
For those of you considering full-timing and trying to factor in ALL the costs associated, this simple monthly budget does NOT include things we have pre-paid or are coming down the road:
- Tow vehicle and trailer – Paid cash
- Start-up equipment – Trailer hitch, generators, solar panels, back-up camera, truck canopy, etc.
- Homeschool curriculum – We purchased the complete first grade Book Shark curriculum and some elements of the Kindergarden curriculum
- Camping memberships – Good Sam, KOA
- Private health insurance – We don’t need this until October, we should have a better cost estimate as we get closer to fall.
Also not included is emergencies and repairs which are a part of life on the road. We have a savings for emergencies, repairs and trailer or truck upgrades.
When it feels like a good fit, I’ll be working with campgrounds and businesses to provide reviews and/or sponsored posts as we travel. This should reduce our budget a bit. If a review or post is sponsored I always clearly denote that within the post.
What do you think of this budget – which allows full-time travel!?! How do you think it compares to the budget of a living in a regular house?
Hey..took a quick scan of your numbers.
Fuel seems low – but then again we tow with a gasser & a heavier RV. The nice thing is if you need the fuel budget to be lower you just stop driving..;)
Propane – make sure to invest in an electic heater so that you aren’t spending propane for heat when you are getting electic on a campsite. During the warmer times we go months without buying propane.
Laundry – we spend closer to $100/mo for the 4 of us, but our kids are adult-sized.
Internet – we have a 20GB plan that we struggle to stay under if we can’t supplement with RV park or library wifi.
Food..we have a 18YO boy so we’re off that chart entirely..;)
Camping…sometimes private parks will be cheaper (and ease laundry by having facilities on-site).
State parks can be >$30 night in places and not even full hookupsa at that.
We’re not Thousand Trails fans because the parks kinda suck.
Be sure to get a Passport America membership – it’s a bit of a game to find where and when you can use it but it pays for itself quickly.
Hey Boyink – THANK you for taking the time to share your feedback on our budget – it is most helpful!
I think you’re probably right, gas might need to be a bit more. Our heaters are both electric and/or propane – so as long as we’re hooked up to shore power we really shouldn’t have much need for propane. I was wondering about laundry – although our kids are smaller, they tend to go through more clothes in a day than perhaps an older teen, maybe I need to bump that one up.
I am so interested to see how internet will shake out because it’s definitely a necessity for me to get my work done! I’m getting the WiFi Ranger installed on our trailer today to boost nearby wifi channels and was considering a Wilson 4G cell booster – do you use either of these to help?
Food might be harder for us than we think. I don’t mind cooking, but we really like to try new food from new places – I wonder if we are going to be eating out more than we should because of the regional cuisines that will be hard to resist!
Funny you say that about Thousand Trails – we were sort of feeling the same way but have nothing to base it off of. There are many families who RAVE about the membership. Sure makes for cheap rent but then I ask myself – if we don’t love our surroundings – what’s the beauty of being in a house with wheels, right!? I’m willing to pay more for campsites that create experiences, have lots of hiking and outdoor options and are not filled to the gill with RVs. I’ll check into a Passport America membership – thanks for the tip!
Thanks again for your detailed response! I guess we’ll see how this budget shakes out after we get on the road . . . stay tuned!
Holly Reed says
Maybe you could reduce your laundry expenses by hang drying? I hang dry when the weather is good and it really reduces my expenses. Might not be feasible all the time, but the thought of hanging clothes out in fresh mountain air is very appealing to me.
Hi Holly – The imagery of my clean clothes drying in the mountain air sounds delightful and I think we’ll try and do that whenever possible. Especially things like pillow cases and sheets air drying!! 🙂
Many RV parks won’t allow clotheslines – but I can’t imagine there are restrictions when boondocking or in wooded campgrounds!
Marg Z says
Buy a few folding drying racks. You can set them up inside when you are out siteseeing and yours clothes will be dry when you return. Also remember farmers markets to keep foodcosts down.
I have both the wifi ranger and Wilson 4G amp. They both work well in so far as the wifi ranger will help you see more wifi around you. However most of those will be secured networks.
The ones that aren’t? I’m either a bit scared to hook up to them or feel bad for siphoning off someone else’s bandwidth.
Campground wifi has been workable for us maybe 10-15% of the time. The WFR will help you connect to it better, but those networks are usually overburdened. I think many of them were installed years ago and haven’t been updated for higher bandwidth.
The Wilson unit helps the cell side – but then again you’re just drawing against your 10GB plan. We’ve two laptops and an iPad on our network, don’t stream any movies or music, me doing web development and the wife & kids doing social media and some schooling and we’re pretty good at maxxing out on 20GB.
We blogged our thoughts on ThousandTrails.
I want to poke an eye out with a stick every time I hear “we are TT members so camp for free”…people seem to be able to “forget” buying the $5K membership. But financials aside, we think the same as you – we didn”t ditch the suburbs to live in run down trailer parks….
Hanging laundry wil work sometimes – but between parks with rules against it and humid weather conditions it’s not something we’ve been able to do consistently.
Oh – buy some of those “quick dry” camping towels though. They’re well worth the investment.
I will second the laundry cost. I did laundry for our family of 5 at a laundromat for 3 years and our expenses were closer to $100 a month (sheets and towels included). We used the same laundromat every week. My daughter and I had it down to a system and knew how to get the most bang for our buck. We regularly saw people with fewer clothes spending the same amount (or more). Hopefully you will learn the laundromat system and be able to apply that to the various machines you visit.
There are a couple of FB groups for families traveling around the US and it’s a great place to get info about which parks are best for kids, etc. Families on the Road and Full Time Families. We were planning a trip, like yours, but our living situation changed suddenly and we had to put it on hold. Happy travels!
Can you post a link to the Facebook pages?
$2,735 I would hate to see what it was before…. My month to month budget is $1,000. I need a new job. I even quit being an extreme couponer because I couldn’t afford ink, gas, etc… Sad part it I could get most for just tax, 65 boxes of tooth paste cost me $2.15, yet I couldn’t afford it anymore. That is great, more family time and more memories!
Budgets look different all over the country. Here in the Northwest, I think things are a bit steeper than in other areas. We have always lived below our means but after mortgage, insurance, utilities, school, cars, health care – it all adds up! 🙂 Looking forward to simplifying on the road for sure. And the $2,735 represents full-time travel – if we pulled the Airstream into a park and stayed put, I imagine we could be under $1,000 a month, but we’re excited to see the country.
Great job on the toothpaste! 65 boxes is a lot. A great item to donate to local shelters and food banks!
This sounds like a cool idea Heather! Kind of like a modern day pioneer or Klondike gold digger- except the ‘gold’ you’re looking for is authenticity and peace of mind. I’ve done zero research on this idea- but my first thoughts on your budget were this:1) make new friends and pay them a small fee to use the laundry rooms (that will save on laundry- $100 a month is ridiculous). Besides, isn’t part of your adventure to meet new people and see how the live? I would let you use my laundry room if you came and made dinner for me, nice trade, no? 2) On that note, people might let you ‘camp’ on their property for a night or two because of some small trades, like making dinner in their kitchen or yard work, are just a few ideas. In Europe they have small farm excursions where you work for 2-3 months on a farm in exchange for a place to stay for an extended 3 weeks or so after to do day trips in Europe. 3) Food— try the local food, hike off the calories, then do what is suggested in #1-2 above for a few days to save money
The nice thing about doing laundry on the road is that your done with a weeks worth of laundry in a couple hours. Fill those big front loaders to the top and save at least $1-2 a load. Our family of 6 teenagers to toddler $15-20 a week. Still like to read your blog even though I quit couponing. Good luck on your travels. You won’t regret it!
So excited for you guys, congratulations! I’ve been a loyal follower for years…when we are home that is. We travel in our RV for 5+ months out of the year and frankly, my coupons efforts become unraveled when exploring unfamiliar terrain/area (meaning unfamiliar stores/brands). I’m super excited to hear how you overcome those challenges and just know together, we will figure it out! On another note, figuring out where to camp while traveling can be a challenge. We use RVParkReview.com as we travel this beautiful country, There are many sites to choose from, take a look and see if ithis one fits your needs. Congrats again!
What a wonderful adventure for your family! Travel to Fort Collins, Colorado. …….stay at the awesome KOA CAMPGROUND on Taft Hill Rd. …its beautiful country and so much to do….
If you need to keep expenses down you can always save some money on park fees by boondocking in places like Walmart parking lots. My husband and I once took a last minute Valentines vacation and didn’t book anything ahead of time, (actually we forgot it was Valentines weekend) so we were out of luck for a place to stay. We wound up boondocking in a casino parking lot! It worked great and saved us tons of money on park fees.
Alisha Kuempel says
We’re a family of 4 living on the road too. Laundry is about $80/month for us. Propane is about $50/ 3 months (wintering in FL helped this a lot!), and our grocery/food bill is about $800/month. It’s amazing how much the cost of food fluctuates throughout the country.
Tilla Ham says
I think definitely too low on gas and laundry.
The rest seems pretty doable.
Have you considered going with a cell provider with unlimited data? also keeping in mind that you have to have a good reliable company and a fairly new phone….how about making your phone a hot spot so you always have data and can also use it to power up the laptop?
excited to see your adventures
Loren S says
Have you thought about becoming a WBCCI member? NOVA is one of the units and their membership fee is only $1 after you pay your national fees, I think $65 last I heard. However, being a WBCCI member would get you cheaper camping at Airstream parks across the country. 🙂 Check out https://sites.google.com/site/campnova/ for more info On the NOVA unit (you don’t have to be from Ohio to me a member! Good luck and I look forward to reading more on your journey! We hope to full time in our 1978 Airstream Argosy one day!
We are getting ready to do the same thing, only no kids & staying in one spot for the first few years! Already have our motor home & the house goes on the market soon. I will definitely be following you!
Congratulations! You are living out a life-long dream of mine! My husband and I often fantasize about taking our three daughters (ages 5, 6, & 8yrs) all over the country. But you guys are DOING IT! Amazing!
Many peeps are already pointing out your laundry budget; laundromats can be $4-6 just to wash, and the a quarter for every 7 min of drying. I liked the idea of investing in drying racks that you can set up in your camper while you hike to your hearts’ content. Costco has some, I believe.
And for what it’s worth, I think you should totally go out to eat. Like, a lot. Food is my favorite way to experience travel. But go to good, hole-in-the-wall/unique-to-the-area places, if you find them. Especially as you go south and east. Be all Anthony Bourdain about it. ‘Cause if you’re gonna go, may as well go big. 🙂 more memories with the kids (bonus points if you can’t recognize what’s on your plate!)
This year I bought the girls their own tiny backpacks (thank you REI-Outlet). They carry their own water, band aids, ziplock for their trash, snacks, spf chapstick, and tiny sunscreen tubes. We hiked Staircase and they did not melt. Do you have a system like this for your peeps? And I bought the SPF adventure sun hats from Costco for $10, and they seem to be totally worth it. Keeps the glare off the face, protects neck & ears better than sunscreen.
Enjoy your adventure! I look forward to reading your chronicles of awesome.
Congratulations on making a life-changing decision and following thru with it! After 7 months of RV travel, I’d echo that your laundry costs will likely be double what you’ve budgeted, and unless you have great batteries and/or solar power, you might find you spend a lot more for lodging as well, paying for utility sites. At $40/year, a Passport America membership pays for itself quickly. I hope your family really treasures the experience, and I look forward to reading your blog.
I just got home from a three week RV trip. We did laundry (for 2) twice on the road (mostly sheets, towels and underwear). Cost per load at the campsites was $5.50 to $6.00 per load to wash and dry…which means it looks like your laundry estimate is too low for four! I would guess you will be at least four loads a week, which will cost more like $25 per week, not month. Hmmm…I haven’t been to a laundromat in years…maybe they are cheaper.
Deborah Troop says
We found Good Sam and Passport America to be essential. We were.members of the Escapes for full-time travelers. They had fantastic mail forwarding. Our diesel pusher had combo washer/dryer so laundry was not issue. But prior to that I often paid just for washing machine for thinks that would dry quickly and hung them in shower. Saved some money that way. There are so many regional food eating places that we tried so our food budget was higher. Plus we loved eating. The one thing we found is that as our time on the road evolved our original travel plans changed completely. There are some camp grounds that offer a monthly rate that is lower than nightly rates. We had Wi-Fi booster and Verizon air card. Rarely had issues. Do you have a good camera?
Have you thought about buying a portable wifi hotspot with a separate data charge? It sounds like more money but may be worth it.