Long-Term Travel Budget

Long Term Travel Budget - Exploring Alternatives

Budgeting for a long-term trip is scary when you don’t know how much it’s going to cost.  Mat and I didn’t have a clue how much we’d be spending before we started travelling.  Not knowing made it hard for us to plan and it also increased our fear that we might not be able to make our trip happen at all.

Now, two and a half years later, we’ve mostly got our budget figured out and want to share details about our income, expenses and lessons learned in the hopes that they’ll help you plan your long-term travel budget.

Friendly Warning: we’re sharing a lot of detail so this post is a little long :)

Travel Style

Before getting into the numbers, it probably makes sense for me to share how we travel so you can adjust your own budget according to your personal travel style.

Long Term Travel Budget - Mat and I riding around Iceland for free

Mat and I riding around Iceland for free

To keep our accommodation costs down, we usually house-sit, stay with family and friends, stay at artist residencies or sleep in our van.  When we do stay at hotels or hostels, we try to spend $60 or less per night.  We pack our own food and snacks on travel days to avoid spending a fortune at the airport and we usually cook our own meals instead of eating out.  We only spend money to see tourist attractions if it’s something we really want to do.  Otherwise, we find alternative things to do that are free – flea markets, libraries, parks, hikes, etc.  We rarely shop for ourselves and we send postcards instead of buying souvenirs.  Last but not least, we travel slowly and stay in each place for at least a month.  Oh, and we almost never go out for drinks.

Income

Over the past couple of years we’ve earned an average of approx. $35,000 per year, which gives us a budget of around $2,900 per month.

During our first year of long-term travel, our $35,000 income came from a combination of money we had saved, money we earned from the sale of our house and money we received from a small insurance settlement (Mat was injured in a fatal, high speed car accident in 2010).

Long-Term Travel Budget - I'm working part-time wherever we go. Even in the jungle!

I’m working online everywhere we go. Even in the jungle!

During our second year of long-term travel, right up to today, our $35,000 per year income is generated from my part-time salary (approx. $2,500 per month after taxes) and Mat’s art sales and graphic design contracts (approx. $5,000 per year).  Mat also takes care of all travel planning, van maintenance, meals and back massages :)

Expenses

We divide our expenses into two categories: cost of living (food, rent, car insurance, etc.) and travel costs (flights, hotels, travel insurance, etc.).

Our monthly cost of living varies per month depending on whether we’re backpacking, house-sitting, road-tripping or living in a tiny apartment.  The table below shows an estimate of our monthly living expenses for each living/travel situation:

Long-Term Travel Budget - Cost of Living

Knowing what our cost of living will be (even just roughly) allows us to figure out how much we’ll have left over to spend on travel expenses like flights, hotels, travel insurance, etc.  To give you an example, here’s how we would plan and budget for a 3-month backpacking trip to Costa Rica:

  • Our cost of living when backpacking is $1,100 per month (as per table above).  If we deduct that amount from our monthly budget of $2,900, it leaves us with $1,800 per month for travel expenses.
  • Our total travel budget would be 3 x $1,800 = $5,400 total
  • We could each get a round trip flight for $750 = $1,500 total
  • We would spend 90 nights at a hotel at $35 per night = $3,150 total
  • Our ground transport (taxis, buses and shuttles) = $450 total
  • Our travel insurance is $100 per month = $300 total
  • Food, fun and misc. expenses are in our living expenses budget

We could easily spend more on this example trip by staying at nicer hotels, eating out more often or doing more touristy activities.  We could just as easily spend less by staying at a cheaper hotel or renting a cheap cabina.

We plan our trips based on how much money we actually have and then we make the trip fit our budget.  If we planned them the other way around (planned the trip first and then tried to come up with the money to pay for it after) then long-term traveling would be much more stressful since we’d always need more money to pay for the things we were doing.

Lessons Learned

We are extremely grateful that we’ve found a way to travel long-term in a financially sustainable way.  While there are certain factors that have made it easier for us to adopt this lifestyle (no student loans, no kids, no house, to name a few), we do spend a lot of time and effort planning each of our trips and figuring out how we can afford them.  We work on our van every weekend, we review our budget every two weeks, we apply for new house-sitting jobs and artist residencies every month.  Being nomadic means that we can never stop planning our next move.

We’ve been very careful to stay out of debt during our travels and we always incorporate a $200 “miscellaneous” cushion into each monthly budget to cover unexpected expenses.  That said, we’ve realized that $200 per month is not enough – in the last 7 months we’ve had 4 big ones that we didn’t budget for:

  • Plane tickets home from Barcelona (we missed our original flights!) – $3,000
  • Dental work for two – $1,000
  • Two new sets of tires for the van – $1,000
  • New front brakes and a new battery for the van – $700
Long-Term Travel Budget - Getting new tires for the van

Getting new tires for the van

With almost $6,000 on our credit line, we’ve learned an important (and expensive) lesson: we need to slow down our spending and we also need to set aside more money each month to cover unexpected expenses like these.

If you made it this far, you must be seriously interested in long-term travel!  So, what do you think?  Is our lifestyle more or less expensive than you thought it would be?  If you’re a long-term traveler, how does our budget compare to yours?

Take care,

Danielle

58 thoughts on “Long-Term Travel Budget

  1. Katie

    This is awesome guys! So helpful for us as we plan our travels :). We hadn’t really planned to meticulously budget but you’ve inspired us to look into what our monthly budget should look like!

    1. Jonathan

      Danielle, your budget planning is so important to each person, not only to the nomadic. I am using the same technique of leaving money for misc. events. It is alos important to be a bit negative in the thinking: we always save less and spend more than we think or assume we do. It also essential to adjust the living costs to the available budget and not to over-consume unless an expected income can cover the excess expense. I am also inclined to allocate a 100-200 to dental and health expenses as it is an expense that eventually comes and therefore I prefer to spread it out over a period of time. I also suggest an allowance for car maintenance and depreciation! – saving for car replacement or major high cost repairs.

      Again, many thanks for the wonderful website and detailed budget. I love the idea that you are very realistic in your stories and this gives a good balance to many things you discuss online.

      1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

        Hi Jonathan – thank for sharing your budget planning tips! I like the idea of saving for vehicle depreciation and health costs and will probably incorporate that into my future budget planning :) Take care and happy exploring!

        1. Jonathan

          Many thanks for your comment. An example of private budgeting:

          I am taking a depreciation over 8+ years of the used van I have just bought, which is around 100 months. It makes easier to work on a 100 month period as each month is 1% of the van depreciated (usuage) value over the entire 100 months. 150 CAN Dollars per month will therefore provide you with 15,000 CAN Dollars by the end of the period. This amout can also be an emergency fund for repairments or upgrading of the vehicle.

          Again, many thanks for the wonderful website you have been creating. I have been following your life-path for the last year and I enjoy a lot your ability to describe and discuss real life situations in a very realistic manner.

    2. Irma Romano

      I work as a massage therapist in Canada so the way I travel is to do seasonal work in resorts. I have worked in Fishing Lodges in Northern Saskatchewan near the artic circle. I have worked across Canada for 5 years and one suitcase. I live in staff housing or rent cabins in the wood. I have seen everything from Cape Breton to BC. I am off again this year starting in BC. I can just say out of my own experience that you need to set aside over 10 grand before you take off. You might not like your job and need to fly home. Its cheaper to not have an apartment in Toronto. I got paid more in resorts by 30 dollars an hour especially in remote places. You can do Airbnb, too if you visit places. I also have a European passport and have job offers in France and Switzerland in staff housing with food and rent covered. Always have money in case of an emergency. :)

    3. Ms. Frugal Asian Finance

      Your budget gives me just what I need. I’ve always wondered how much it costs to travel throughout the year like you guys. The groceries/eating out budget seems a big high for me (>$700/month). Do you guys buy organic food or it just adds up since you don’t buy in bulk? Thanks for sharing!

      1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

        Thanks for your questions! $700/month is our grocery bill on a tight budget haha! We can go up to $1000. We do buy organic food as much as we can, but we also buy tons of fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, nut butters, and some other high ticket items because we feel that buying good food is an investment in our health. We do end up spending a lot more on certain products when we travel because we don’t always know where to get the best deals like we would if we were in our hometown. Thanks and happy exploring :)

  2. Chelsea

    Great overview! This is helpful for us as we are planning on living out of our van for 6 months starting June 1st, while still working our 9-5 office jobs (we live in a climate that doesn’t allow van life as it gets far too cold about 7-8 months out of the year). The van budget total you calculated is around what we figured. We are starting slow; between saving $ while living out of the van 6 months, then a smaller apartment for another 6 months vs. paying exorbitant rent in a large apartment all the time, will allow us to save enough money to live off of out of the van (without working 9-5s) for roughly six months. We are pretty excited to go exploring! Long term plan is to relocate to a warmer climate. We are so done with Canadian winters! :) love your blog. Keep it up!
    – Chelsea & Corby

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thanks for checking it out, Chelsea! I’m super excited that you guys are moving into your van + working 9-5 at the same time! Keep us posted on how it goes – we’ll be doing the same thing in May!

      Also let us know where you end up relocating – we’re hoping to avoid Canadian winters too haha!

  3. Jocelyne Langis

    PlanificTion is the most important thing that’s for sure. Second most important thing is to be in good health.
    Finally it is important to find the right place for house sitting and go on.
    How long in advance do you plan your next project?
    Great info….

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thank you, Jocelyne! It also helps to have someone at home who takes care of our mail and encourages us all along the way <3

  4. Erin

    This is a great post! We’ve been on our van trip across the US for 18 weeks now (youngretirement.wordpress.com) and we also report our spending. We sleep in our van most nights but we also are somewhat flexible about what we spend so we don’t feel like we’ve missed out on any tourist opportunities. That said, even with sleeping in a van, cooking most of our own food and doing mostly cheap activities, we find ourselves spending $100 per day! That’s not that cheap after all, but since we have no expenses back home, it’s reasonable….and quite a life. We don’t skimp on vitamins, any health/well being needs, but we don’t buy clothes or do super expensive things (jet skiing, etc) often. Great job for you guys doing it on such a tight budget and clearly doing lots with it!

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hey Erin – it’s so awesome to follow your journey – we’re learning so much from you guys and can’t wait to cross paths when we hit the road in the Spring!

      It’s really helpful to see your budget reports as it gives us a good idea of what we should expect to spend! xo

  5. Maria

    Great post Danielle:)
    My husband and I do slow traveling too to save money. I find it really hard sometimes to be so close to so many great sights, and not go see them.. but it is still worth it just getting to see a place, it just takes discipline. It’s been my dream forever to live in a camper van, but my lovely husband does not like any camping like stuff and that’s alright, so we usually rent a small apartment and make sure to stay for a month to get a better price. Our budget is roughly the same as you guys’ only we calculate it a bit different. We rent out half of our apartment all year round which makes us able to save up around 470 usd every month.. when we go for a month or more she rents our half from us to have space for visiting family guests and we don’t have that expense while traveling. I love traveling and am determined to have it as a big part of my lifestyle for many years:) It’s always good to be reminded of the importance of sticking to the budget though.. Thanks for that:)

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hey Maria – thank you for checking out the post – it sounds like you guys have a pretty sweet setup with a roommate who takes over your half of the rent when you’re away! It’s so cool to hear how everyone makes their nomadic lifestyle work. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hey Brett, thanks for asking! I work for an online store that a couple of my friends started: http://www.vegancuts.com
      We sell and sample products that are cruelty-free (not tested on animals) and vegan (no animal ingredients). You should check it out!

    1. Danielle Post author

      Thanks for checking out the post, Ed! I do feel very lucky that the internet allows small niche businesses like Vegan Cuts to thrive and that I am able to be part of their team :)

  6. Shaked

    Hey guys!

    I really enjoy you blog, Facebook and your YouTube channel!
    My boyfriend and I are really inspired by you and we are planning crazy things thanks to you.

    I was just wondering, if you don’t mind sharing of course, what is it that you do for work?

    Have a great day!

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hi Shaked – thanks for checking out the blog! I’m excited to hear that you and your bf are planning crazy things! I hope you have the best time together :)

      Mat is a visual artist and he also does graphic design and video editing contracts on the side. I work as a project manager for a company called Vegan Cuts. It’s an online store + vegan product subscription service that’s 100% online so all the staff can work from anywhere. It’s pretty cool!

      xo

  7. Juan et Sindy

    Hi. I really love your trip and want too exchange some words with you guys. Sindy and I we go down to Chile from Montreal Canada with our GMC SAFARI 2000. It’s nice to read some experiences before quit the country. We will probably good for November 2015 for 1 year roadtrip
    Thanks to share your trip.
    Juan and Sindy
    Congrats for the accomplishments

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hi Juan and Cindy – thank you for checking out the blog! I’m glad you’re finding some good tips to help you plan your big van life adventure. Montreal to Chile sounds like a ton of fun! Keep us posted on your adventure. We’d love to do that route one day :)

  8. Jocelyne Langis

    Fameux ces calculs car même pour vivre dans notre maison nous devons voir les choses ainsi,mais la maison coûte plus cher que la van ça c’est sur.
    Aussi bien avoir une van….mais il faut aussi avoir un autre petit détail: la santé et ça c’est chiant!!!

    1. Danielle Post author

      C’est vrai, Jocelyne, y’a pas juste l’argent qui permet de voyager. La santé est probablement plus important que tous les autres détails.

  9. Fran

    Have you guys thought about moving to SE Asia or other developing countries/or have done that in the past? Your current budget would go a long way in those countries. How about going raw vegan to save on other misc cooking fees?

    1. Danielle Post author

      Hi Fran – we’ve definitely considered living in SE Asia to save money but so far we’ve only visited. The trouble with our jobs is that we need our office hours to overlap somewhat with the rest of our team so we can’t go too far away :)

      Mat is vegetarian and I’m vegan and we definitely feel like it saves us money with not having to have a fridge, etc. Thanks for checking out the post :)

  10. Kevin

    Thank you for sharing. Just by reading the comments, you’ve impacted and inspired quite a few people, including me.

    I moved to Australia 8 years ago, and would love to travel around the country. I’m still a little ways away from unplugging, but your blog has had me thinking. :-)

    All the best!

    Kevin

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Kevin – thank you for the positive feedback! You’re so lucky to be living in Australia and I hope you get the chance to explore the country one day. We explored part of the West Coast a couple of years ago and we found majestic beauty everywhere we went. Take care!

  11. Thomasd

    You guys have got me going and thinking hard…I have concluded that I need to find something “cheaper” to live with…I am struggling on Social security…rent takes up …half every month…just bought (traded actually) a normally aspirated Jeep (no computer parts) with the intent to live in it…getting rid of the accumulation of stuff will be time consuming…have already sold off much but have much left…thanks for the insights…

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Thomas – thanks for checking out our travel budget. I don’t know much about your situation but I do know that reducing living expenses can often make life a little bit easier – especially if you’re on a tight budget. Good luck with your plans and let us know if you need anything!

  12. Terry

    I noticed you did not have anything listed for a phone, or is that covered in your Internet expense? What do you use for Internet in Canada.
    I bought a refurbished Nokia with a Telus pay-as-you-go plan and buy a $100 card that is good for one year. I pay $5 a month for email use and if I need to make a phone call it costs $0.15/min. We do not make many calls. I really want it if there is an emergency. We do not answer incoming calls unless we know the number.
    It is much better when we travel to the US. I paid Telus $30 to unlock the phone and use StraightTalk from Wal Mart. It runs on the Att&T network. It costs $45 month for unlimited talk, unlimited Internet and unlimited messaging. I use a long distance company that costs me $0.025/min. I set the phone up as a hub and we both can use the Internet just about anywhere in the US. In Canada we have to rely on free WiFi.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Terry – thanks for asking! We got rid of our cell phones in November 2011 and just had a landline for a year. Since 2012 we haven’t had a phone at all and we just use our iPod/laptops to make calls using Skype and FaceTime. I recently activated a cell phone that my boss gave me for work calls as a backup for Skype since our internet situation in the van wasn’t great at first – but Skype still works better than the phone so we’re cancelling the plan this month because it was a waste of money for us.

      I can totally understand why you would want to have a cell phone for emergencies and/or safety. Pay as you go definitely sounds like a good option.

      For internet, we started off with a mobile hotspot device but the plans in Canada aren’t affordable if you’re going to use them for work. We work at public libraries, cafes and parking lots where we can sometimes get a public wifi signal. So far that’s been working great!

      Thanks for checking out the post :)

      1. Terry

        Hi Daneille

        Keep the cell phone charged and handy. I think you can make a 911 call from any of the new phones even without a plan.
        Live in the Grande Prairie, AB area. If you are passing through let me know. There is always a place to park, the shower is hot and the washing machine usually work. I have found these are most important on the road.

  13. Jerika

    I am seriously interested in doing this but it would be just myself and my dog and I would have to work full time to get $35,000/ year to be able to do this :(

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Jerika,

      There are tons of ways to travel long-term on a budget – our $35,000/year is extremely comfortable and we could easily travel with less if we wanted to. Right now we’re traveling in the van for approx. $1500 per month which is $18,000 per year and we could definitely get that lower if we wanted to. Plus that’s for 2 people.

      Have you looked into WWOOFing, Workaway, Au Pair, etc? Also, if you’re under 30, you can get a working holiday visa from most countries and then you can work and travel along the way.

      Good luck!

  14. Audrey

    Hi, your site and youtube chanel are amazing! Thank you for sharing! I was wandering if you make incomes with them? And if yes how much?
    Im looking to leave for one year in a van with my sister across canada and the us and your advice are very helpful!
    Audrey

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Audrey,

      Thank you for checking out the blog and our YouTube channel! We make our income by working online but we did recently monetize our YouTube channel last month and made $300. It’s very helpful because it covers some of our time, equipment and travel costs, but it is not enough to live off of.

      Have fun travelling with your sister!

      Danielle

  15. Charlie

    Thank you so much for this wonderful breakdown of the expenses you guys have whilst traveling.

    I was given some bad news by the doctor this week and it’s just pushing me closer to buying that van on bills farm and living in peace and quiet.

    Thank you for all the blog posts on your website, these will help me on my own journey.

    I do have one question, where did Mat find a woman like you, I’ve run this idea past a few of my ex’s and that’s why they are ex’s, they thought I was insane. lol

    Hope you continue your wonderful adventure.

    Charlie.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Charlie,

      Sorry to hear that you’ve recently received some bad news. I hope you find a way to overcome whatever obstacle you’re facing and that you find a way to find joy in a simple life if that’s what you want!

      Mat and I met at a health food store :) If you’re an alternative person with alternative ideas, then I think you’re more likely to meet like-minded people by hanging around hippie places like farmer’s markets and health food stores haha!

      Take care and happy exploring!

      Danielle

      1. Charlie

        Thanks for the support, life has it’s obstacles but we can overcome anything, just need to enjoy life !

        I’ll keep that in mind thanks :)

        Enjoy your travels,

        Charlie.

        1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

          Hi Charlie – thank you for your comment(s) – I loved them both :) All fixed and glad you’re enjoying life!

  16. David S

    Danielle and Matt, I have been following your Adventures for awhile now. You have both inspired me to continue my journey to minimalism and RV living. The budget ideas are very helpful, thank you for that. I also had an unexpected expense last spring while visiting my daughter in Barcelona and had to purchase an unexpected plane ticket. Safe travels to both of you, would love to meet you both if you are ever in California..

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi David,

      Thank you for your comment and for sharing that we’re not alone in our Barcelona plane ticket fiascos!

      Have fun exploring the RV life :)

      Danielle

  17. Mike

    Thanks for sharing! This budget is very practical. We are living on US$100 a day too, we can live a good life on this planet, if we spend over 1/3 time in the developing countries and stay in every place long enough. I’m encouraged by you two minimalists so much. I’ve been driving a Jeep around the world since May 2014 started from Vancouver, while I was in U.S. heading Mexico I met a girl, she’s now my wife. Good luck for your life journey!

  18. Danielle Chabassol Post author

    Wow Mike! It sounds like you’re on an epic journey! Congratulations on meeting your wife on the road too – it sounds very romantic :)

  19. Phyllis St.Cyr

    My life style would be vastly different so i find your expences a little higher than I tnought it would be. But also your income is more than mine would be. I would be alone and that makes a huge difference.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Phyllis – thank you for checking out our long-term travel budget! Travelling solo is definitely cheaper in some areas (flights for example), but more expensive in others (accommodation). Take care and happy exploring :)

  20. Isaac

    Wow, this post is fantastic. It’s awesome that you open your life up to everyone! This is so fascinating and I really envy your lifestyle. Please keep making detailed posts like this, they are really interesting to read.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Isaac, thank you for checking out the blog and for your positive feedback! We put a lot of work into this post and I’m glad you found it helpful. We’re going to continue sharing as much information about alternative lifestyles as possible, please feel free to let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know! Take care and happy exploring :)

  21. Alexis

    As a student, I work three jobs adding up to about 15-20 hours a week on top of full time school. With this, I can bring in about 1000-1200 per month, and rent + utilities costs 675/month. I can manage to live off of this relatively comfortably, so it seems crazy to me to see how much is spent on basic living expenses when living without rent! I do plan on moving into my car soon, so it’s great to have an idea of where your money goes.

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Alexis,

      Thank you for checking out our blog post and for sharing your minimalist budget with us. It’s always great to hear how other people are living comfortably on a small budget. Our budget is for 2 people and it’s only 1/3 of what we used to spend when we had a house, so we’re quite happy with spending ~$,1500 per month. That said, we never compromise on food quality and spend almost the equivalent of a month’s rent on our groceries each month!

      Take care and happy exploring :)

  22. Pingback: How We Make Money While Travelling - Van Life - World Web

  23. Natalie Vernon

    Hi Danielle!

    I’m from the UK but have loved reading all of your blogs and watching you tour around! It has encouraged my boyfriend and I to look at buying a little van and convert it so we can tour the country.

    This post is so helpful as we didn’t really know what we were doing at the start!

    We both have full time jobs but they are both online and we work from home. I’m looking forward to not having to pay rent!

    Keep up the great work!

    1. Danielle Chabassol Post author

      Hi Natalie,

      Thanks for checking out the blog and for following our adventure! Sounds like you and your boyfriend already have a sweet deal with being able to work online and from home. That was the hardest thing for us to set up. I hope you have a great time adventuring around the UK in a van! :D

      Happy exploring!

      Danielle

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