There's room for both splurging and traveling frugally in my life. Splurging is fine for a 2-week holiday and, like everyone else, we like to have those too — once in a while.
But imagine splurging for five or six months at a time. We would be eating into our retirement fund pretty quickly. It's not in our budget and that's not what this web site is about. On this page I'll show you the advantages of traveling frugally in realistic terms.
For us, these longer trips are only possible by traveling frugally. We shop around for the best price on everything we purchase, just as we do in our “at home” life. Because we do this, we're able to experience the adventure and joy of traveling yet spend very little more than it costs to live at home.
The reality for us is that, if we weren't traveling frugally, we'd not be traveling as often or for the length of time that we do.
Life is too short to spend more time working than playing. The balance for us comes when we “take off” every two years for several months at a time. We couldn't do this if we weren't traveling frugally.
The answer to that will, of course, be different for everyone. I can only tell you how we've done it and that we'll continue traveling frugally in this way for as long and as often as we can. Why? Because it's fun, it's adventurous, it's romantic and it's cheap.
To show you how possible and how affordable traveling frugally by RV can be -- our way – I'll share with you exactly how much each trip cost and where we allocated every penny we spent on those six trips.
When we plan a long road trip we plan on traveling frugally. We develop a budget for each trip and track every expense. I use a simple spread sheet program to enter and categorize every purchase. As of 2019, we budget from $800.00 to $900.00 per person per month for our travels. This includes all expenses of our trip including food and personal items that we'd be purchasing even if we were staying home. And, as you'll see from our records below, we don't hold back on mileage.
We're not traveling to go and sit in one spot. We're going to see and experience as much as we can at a pace that keeps the trip relaxing but, at the same time, exciting and spontaneous.
The following is a brief synopsis of our expenses on our longest RV trips and includes all expenses for two people. The figures reflect only our actual trip expenses. Other related costs of buying, insuring and maintaining the RV while not on the trips are not included. We use it as our second vehicle and would have that expense even if it wasn't an RV.
The breakdown is in US dollars, but line 12 provides the Canadian dollar equivalent. For consistency, even trips that were totally within Canada are shown in the US dollar equivalent.
If you have trouble understanding the reports or don't believe we (or more importantly, you) can actually have fun and spend so little by traveling frugally be sure to read the section directly following the reports titled, “And the Best News is… You Can do it Even Cheaper!”
If, after reviewing our costs, you're still skeptical, take a look at the budget of full time adventurers, Mark and Emily.
Duration: 2 months. Mid-Jan to mid-Mar 2020
Route: From Ontario to Florida and back (via I-75). Originally intended to be a 3-month trip with a leisurely return following the east coast, this trip was cut short by a sudden death in the family. The expenses include 2 weeks spent out of the RV (a 7-day Caribbean Cruise and our share of a Kissimme AirBnB Rental with the kids and grandkids).
Duration: 2 months. Mid-Aug to mid-Oct 2019
Route: From Ontario, through Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, we took the ferry to Channel-Port aux Basques, Newfoundland. We spent 5 weeks crossing the province with many side-trips to explore each peninsula, hugging the coastline most of the way as we traveled east to Saint John's and returned to take the same ferry back to Nova Scotia. We then circled Cape Breton Island, taking in their Celtic Colors Festival before returning home via New Brunswick and Quebec. We only spent 5 nights in campgrounds; the remaining nights, we boondocked (we found plenty of opportunities for that in Newfoundland). Enroute to and from Newfoundland, we arranged free camping with various Boondockers Welcome hosts.
Desert Spring Tour
Route: A direct route from Ontario to southern Arizona in March. In April and May meandering through California on the desert (east) side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range - at a leisurely pace. By June we turned east, returning slowly with stops in Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Although we put on lots of miles, we covered less territory over a longer time period, making this one of our most relaxed and enjoyable extended trips ever.
Merry Maritimes Tour
Duration: 5 weeks in Aug/Sept 2016
Route: From Ontario, to Quebec, around the Gaspe Peninsula, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia, including Cape Breton Island, we followed secondary roads and the coastline almost exclusively until returning to Ontario from New Brunswick with a more direct route. We only camped 3 nights in a campground. The remaining nights, divided fairly equally between Boondockers Welcome hosts, boondocking spots, and on friends' property.
Duration: 4 1/2 months. Mid Jan through May 2015
Route: From Ontario, to Arizona (first time attending Quartzsite's RV Show), a few weeks in Southern California, and two full months criss-crossing New Mexico, reviewing and adding locations to my guide.
Mission: Review and Renew
Duration: 5 months. Jan 2013 through May 2013
Route: From Ontario, to Florida (including 3 days at Disney World), Texas, Arizona, and Utah with extensive travel through each of these four states for the purpose of reviewing all sites listed in my Frugal Shunpiker's Guides.
California Dream Tour
Duration: 6 months. March 2011 to September 2011
Route: From Ontario, to Texas and New Mexico, then through Arizona to California. Extensive travel in California including the deserts, coastal highway, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains with stops in Nevada and Colorado on the trip home.
Tour For John
Duration: 5 months. January 2008 to June 2008
Route: From Ontario, south to Texas, west to Arizona, north to Utah, extensive travel in New Mexico, north to Colorado and back to Ontario.
Frugal Shunpiker's Tour
Duration: 5 months. January 2006 to June 2006
Route: From Ontario, south to Texas, Arizona, California, Utah and return to Ontario via North Dakota and Manitoba.
Eternally Optimistic Tour
Duration: 5 months. January 2004 to June 2004
Route: From Ontario, south to Texas, west through New Mexico, Arizona, north to Utah and Colorado and back to Ontario.
Sweet Surrender Tour
Duration: 12 months. June 2000 to June 2001
Route: From northern Ontario into the northern States. West through the Dakotas and Wyoming. South into Utah, California, Arizona, and Texas. East to Washington D.C. and back through Pennsylvania to Ontario.
The following will help you understand the expense reports line by line.
Although we're traveling frugally, there are still areas where we spend more than is necessary. Look for this symbol $$$ which suggests areas where, you can $$$ spend less and still see and do as much as we did. (And I don't mean by eating only peanut butter on toast or by traveling half as far.)
We've also put on a lot of extra miles on our trips in search of the "perfect free camping area" so that you don't have to.
$$$ Spend even less: When traveling in the southwestern states, you could do a similar trip, and cut back on the miles quite a bit if you followed my Frugal Shunpiker's Guides to free camping and the routes suggested in the guides.
If you drive a newer vehicle than we do, or any vehicle that gets better gas mileage, you could $$$ spend less on gas than we do. We also don't have a tow vehicle, which could make local day trips more economical.
Note that, while nearly every other category of expense increased gradually over our years of traveling, our camping costs have remained stable. If we had stayed at pay campgrounds every night, even at an average of $15.00 per night (low estimate) we would have needed to budget an additional $450.00 per month, increasing each trip's total expense between 30% to 50%.
Allowing for personal preferences, I think anyone can eat well on the amount we spend by doing what we do: knowing and comparing prices, buying what's in season, and shopping the specials.
Line 6 includes all our entry fees to attractions, our few splurge nights out at a restaurant, a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after a hike. If you don't drink alcohol, chances are you'll end up $$$ spending less.
We keep our entertainment budget somewhat in check by considering carefully what we're really interested in. Traveling frugally means avoiding the “tourist traps” but when there's something that an area is famous for, that can't be seen anywhere else,—I mean, come on, we've come all this way! It would be crazy to miss out.
For the most part, our favorite kind of entertainment fits right in with the concept of traveling frugally. A day spent hiking a new trail, followed by a quiet meal together or shared with new friends, and perhaps an evening campfire or a stroll under a starry sky.
To avoid too many “surprises” on the trips, we do have our RV checked out by our mechanic before we start on a big trip. We carry a good set of tools and the Hanes manual. We're lucky that Randy is mechanically minded and patient, but we also find that invariably people we meet along the way are very helpful when it comes to sharing tools and knowledge. Full disclosure: All repairs except for two major ones (each in excess of $1500.00) that happened on two separate trips are included in this report. They are left out to make it easier to compare actual trip cost over the years. Major repairs, while not pleasant, can be expected when driving an older vehicle as we do and could just as easily have occurred at home rather than on one of these trips.
This line should also include RV Dump Fees, except that we almost always manage to avoid them. They're getting harder to find but, usually we use free RV dumps. And yes, the locations are all listed in (you guessed it) the Frugal Shunpiker's Guides.
If you're Canadian but younger than us, your costs may be less. And, as an American traveling in the States, you can scale down your budget here and $$$ spend less (presuming your current insurance plan covers you anywhere in The U.S.A.)
Traveling frugally, we can go farther on our budget in The States than Canada, although a high exchange rate does challenge this notion.
Americans often pay nearly 20% less for fuel than Canadians.
Campgrounds (when we use them) are generally less expensive south of the border, and so are sales taxes.
Even when crossing our own country, we can often save quite a bit by driving below the border, choosing a route through The States.
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