There’s not a day that goes by without someone asking me about how I pay for all of this. How is this lifestyle sustainable? Hell how is it even attainable? I get a lot of specific questions about how much I spend daily, monthly, or how much I had in my bank account before I took off.
So I wanted to write an expense report of the road. A list totaling what I generally spend and how I got here. I will make a brief disclaimer that I won’t get into specifics about my personal finances leading up to this trip out of respect for my employer.
So what does it take?
I saved up for this trip for a solid year and a half. I worked a 9-5 job, 50 weeks a year, for three years. I lived alone in an apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, WA. My greatest expense then was housing and happy hours (both essential for a 24 year old in my opinion).
Once I really decided that I wanted to do this I began taking a hard look at my finances and started cutting back where I could. I didn’t buy the fanciest groceries, I made all my own lunches etc., but I also wasn’t super pious—I went out to dinner with friends and had social expenses. The big thing that helped me get ready for this trip was picking up odd jobs. I worked as a yoga instructor twice a week, and subbed as many classes as my 40-hour workweek allowed. I started to “flip” furniture on craigslist (I would be the weird person picking up tables and chairs on street corners and then posting them on craigslist). It wasn’t a ton of money, but when you’re trying to save, every little bit counts.
Before the trip I also sold all of my furniture and anything else that I could get some money for: tents, a yoga mat, and I even sold a crock pot for $20. I took my time with selling my possessions and started selling things about 8-6 months before I left for my trip. This gave me lots of time to barter for prices and made it so there was not a mad dash right at the end to “just get rid of it”. This mentality was huge for me. I was able to slowly and calmly rid my life of the things that were tying me to Seattle.
By the time I got on the road I had about $15,000 saved. That’s from everything—work, craigslist, yoga, my whole life. I was also still making an income during this time, so buying things like the ticket for the inside passage (easily the biggest ticket item of this trip) was just being deducted from my paycheck.
Now having been on the road for 4 months, I have a better understanding of my expenses. I didn’t want to write this post because, (a) I didn’t think it was such a discussion topic, and (b) I didn’t have a clear understanding of what I spent in 2 weeks on the road.
Here is a general budget for life on the road (this is based on four months in Alaska and Canada)
Gas- anywhere from $50-80/week. I can get about 400 miles on a single tank. If I feel like I'm spending to much on gas I'll post up in a spot I like and just hike and chill for a day or two. It's the big long hauls that will add up (aka Haines to Fairbanks)
Food- about $30-50/week. That’s not including things like ketchup, or spices that cost a lot but last forever.
Housing- $0/week (see below).
Drinks- $40/week. I’m not going to lie here, I enjoy a drink or two at the end of a day and it is a factor in my budget.
Misc Expenses- $100/month. Here I’m thinking souvenirs, coffee, a random lunch, a new book.
Here is where I save a lot of money:
Camping- I never pay for a campsite (I think I’ve paid twice for government campgrounds). I generally freedom camp. I find great spots down hunting roads, trail heads (that one is big for me) or pullouts (right now I’m sitting by a river on the Alaska-Canada Highway and although the highway is about 200 meters behind me, its a small secluded spot (check the photos), and I will admit that I do sneak into campsites once in a while and don’t pay. Recently, I've been invited to camp with fellow travelers at their camp spots. If you find a group you like head to a campground and split the cost, it will add up to pennies.
RV Parks/Plugging in- My van has three batteries in it, the front battery for the motor and then my two 6V batteries in the back that power my fridge, laptop, etc. If I didn’t have my solar panel I would have to plug in probably ever 4 days. RV parks are expensive as heck, and generally pretty awful. It’s a lot of retirees that talk to you about their pensions and condos (I only assume this, because I haven’t actually had to frequent one yet). I’ve found the average price for an RV park ranges from $35-80/night. It’s basically a hotel. My solar panel cost me $250 (Kingsolar, Amazon.com). Do yourself a favor and hook up solar. It will save you so much money in the long run.
Showering- Generally a shower will put you back $4-7 so I bought myself a $20 solar shower and it works great, especially since it’s summer. I just hang it off the back of the van and boom, instant money saved. Additionally if I’m feeling like I really want to go to a gym, I try to find a yoga class I can couple with that. For instance I was just in Whitehorse, YT and they have a fantastic recreational center that costs $7.55. It has a steam sauna, hot sauna, lap pool, jacuzzi, water slide, floating river, and work out classes. I took a pilates class, went and swam a few laps, sat in the sauna, and then showered…for $7.
Food- Since I’m alone, I don’t need to spend nearly as much on food as couples need to. I buy most everything reduced to clear, meaning either the expiration date is near or they just want to move product. I’ve never had an issue with food that’s past its expiration date being long gone. I make huge pots of food and then I keep the rest for lunch or even dinner the next day.
Where I lose money:
Gas- I drive. A lot. Gas is a huge drain for my bank account, especially now that I’m in Canada. Canada is about double the price compared to Alaska, and it has been a bigger hit than I anticipated.
When friends come to visit, or as I like to call it “treat yourself week”- When friends come to town, all bets are off for me with saving. Dinner out, hell ya! Drinks, oh yeah! This new t-shirt, I look great! Buy it! While I’m so grateful for the amount of people that have come to visit me on the road, I just want to make everyone aware that it does change your lifestyle and it makes it more expensive. Your friends are on vacation; they want to have a good time and get away from it all. It’s hard for them to realize that this is your lifestyle and you’re able to live it because you don’t go out.
So there it is. A very general outline of what I spend and how I got here. I will say that I do not live as frugally as I could. I could cut back on buying protein for nearly every meal, I could not go out for drinks with friends, and I could restrain myself from shopping at outdoor stores, but we all spend money a little differently.
If there’s one thing I will say though it is that this lifestyle is a lot more attainable that people think. If you’re willing to save and hustle (and flo) you can save more money than you think and put it towards your dreams. You’re going to have to say no to things, really really fun things, but if you put it into perspective, a life on the road is a really really fun thing too. I’ve met so many people on this trip and I think, “How do they afford that car with that gas mileage” or, “You’ve been on the road how long? And you’re staying in campsites?!”—people just budget differently. I also save money by taking odd jobs: when I lived in New Zealand I would do work exchange and live on farms. While I wasn’t making money, I wasn’t losing money either. There isn’t a right way to get on the road, you’re either on it or you’re not.
- No job is below you, if it pays and works with your schedule every penny counts
- If you are serious about selling your stuff (furniture, extra gear) start early. I began selling about 8 months before I left so I could get the best prices and not make a mad dash to just get rid of it.
- Buy "Made to clear" groceries, usually the expiration date just occurred and you can get great food for 50% off.
- Living frugally is attainable and know that everyone spends money differently.
- You can save more than you think.