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Budget: Living and traveling in a camper full-time

How much does it cost to travel full-time in an RV?

Keep in mind that everyone’s budget will be a little different depending on lifestyle and choices, however there are some trends and averages we have noticed, which I will highlight below.

To keep things simple, we won’t talk about expenses that will be about the same no matter whether you live in an RV or live in a permanent home. These expenses include:

  • Food
  • Phone
  • Health Insurance (Will vary widely based on job and/or purchasing your own)
  • House essentials
  • Roadside assistance
  • Student loans

There are also other expenses that will widely vary based on choice alone, which include:

  • *Vehicle payment
  • Vehicle insurance
  • Camper payment
  • *Camper insurance
  • *Vehicle/camper repair/maintenance

*Vehicle payment: Our choice was to purchase a new heavy-duty diesel truck to haul our travel trailer. This is a much larger upfront cost, however we have no cost in vehicle repairs. This is a much larger cost than my old 2004 Rav4.

*Camper insurance: I always recommend FULL-TIME COVERAGE. Make sure your insurance company knows that your are living in your camper FULL-TIME. Progressive has FULL-TIME coverage, which also includes the contents of your camper. Ours runs about $80/month.

*Vehicle/camper repairs/maintenance: Our camper repairs/maintenance range from $0-1200/month.

We stay in campgrounds while we are working for the stability of living in our camper like a normal home:

BILLS WHEN STAYING AT CAMPGROUND, AVERAGE PER MONTH:

  • Rent
    • Average $600 (Monthly rent, all utilities included, occasionally extra for electric. We’ve paid as low as $500/month in AZ, and as high as $1200/month in the FL Keys. Average around the country runs about $600)
  • Propane
    • $20 (Chiefly depending on time of year, how much we are home. We use propane for the stove/oven, refrigerator while we travel, furnace, and gas grill)
  • Laundry
    • $25 (For 2 people)
  • Internet/TV
    • $20 (Verizon HotSpot- unlimited gb/month, however speed slows down after 15 gb)
  • Gas (Diesel)
    • $200 (Including a few weekend trips per month)

Total $865

When we are not working, we boondock whenever possible:

BILLS WHEN BOONDOCKING, AVERAGE PER MONTH:

  • Rent
    • FREE! (We stay in rest stops, truck stops, Walmart, Cracker Barrel, the side of the road, BLM land, where ever we can park for free legally)
  • Propane
    • $40 (Typically a little bit more because we don’t utilize our microwave as much when we don’t have electric hook ups)
  • Laundry
    • $25 (This doesn’t change)
  • Internet/TV
    • $20 (This doesn’t change)
  • Gas (Diesel)
    • $600 (This varies widely depending on our plans. When we’re not working, we tend to drive and travel much more than when we are stationary depending on our destinations for the month)
  • Gas (Generator)
    • $50 (Depending on time of year or our activities)
  • Dump station
    • $20 ($10/dump at Flying J or campground, with average of 2 dumps/month)

Total $755

How does this compare to life before full-time camper living? I was renting a 2BR 1 bath house in East Nashville, TN:

BILLS, AVERAGE PER MONTH

  • Rent
    • $1200
  • Electric
    • $100
  • Water
    • $20
  • Gas (Furnace)
    • $75
  • Gas (Vehicle)
    • $150
  • Internet
    • $110

Total $1655

Overall, the way we’re spending now, we’re saving money by traveling full-time. We can take as much time off as our budget allows and we can live anywhere we’ve ever dreamed.

This didn’t come without a HUGE learning curve.

Original budget: We didn’t have one. This was our first mistake. We were completely naïve when it came to living in an RV full-time and how to budget.

MAJOR MISTAKES WE MADE:

  • Going full-tourist mode and overspending on new activities/restaurants/bars
  • Trying to keep up with friends. We made friends as we traveled and tried to keep up with their spending habits
  • Taking too much time off. With our new travel lifestyle, we could take as much time off as we wanted. We went into “semi-retirement mode”.
  • Being naive to the amount of repairs/maintenance of a camper and a vehicle
  • Not having an emergency fund. If our truck or camper were totaled or required prolonged time for repairs, where would we stay or how would we get to our jobs? We got stuck paying for a hotel in Boston while our truck went in for repairs, which took our truck camper with it. We didn’t have the option to drop our truck camper off anywhere nearby.
  • We didn’t start out with a brand new truck, like we have now. We first tried to stay too cheap with our vehicles/camper, which ended up costing more in repairs/maintenance/rental cars in the long run. Not researching enough before buying some of our vehicles cost us. Even with 3rd party inspections, buying from a dealer, and doing research on forums, we still had a lot of truck issues.

THINGS WE LEARNED ALONG THE WAY: 

  • Live life as normal. Don’t treat this like a typical week-long vacation. Cook at home. Explore free activities.
  • Take time to stay in one place
  • Invite friends over to the camper. Have a BBQ. Play cards. Pick and choose which activities you go out for.
  • Plan time off accordingly. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your next destination. Always make sure you have a few months worth of saving for bills or unexpected breakdowns, if you can. Credit card interest rate can be killer.
  • Always expect break downs and keep a maintenance/repair budget for each month. Every single month will be different. We’ve spent anywhere from $0-1200 in one month just on repairs to be mobile or keep the heat on.
  • Have a separate emergency fund on top of the maintenance/repair budget. Also have a backup plan in case you have to stay somewhere other than your camper, or drive something other than your regular vehicle. We were so lucky to have 2 motorcycles at one point because we were both working and our truck was in the shop for over a month. Renting a car for a month is a major blow to the budget.
  • Research your camper and vehicle before buying. And then research it again. Ask the seller detailed questions. Get all written reports and facts. Ask more questions to different people, including resources like Facebook groups, friends, 3rd party mechanics, and online forums.

THINGS WE DID RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING: 

  • Boondocked whenever possible
  • Asked for weekly or monthly discounts at campgrounds
  • Drove our motorcycles to save on gas
  • Did our own maintenance/repairs when possible
  • Bought AAA RV+ before we left. We used all 4 free tows in our first year, which would have cost us a lot more had we not had this service.
  • We downloaded and used the RV Parky App. It’s a a nice, quick money and time saver because you can look up different campgrounds in one area and quickly get prices, reviews, amenities, etc.

 

Now that you know what the average cost looks like, click here to see what jobs allow you to travel full-time.

 

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