Traveling Full Time: Financial Matters

(photo credit: Jeremy Dorrough/Unsplash)

This will not be a post about how much money is required to travel full time. People of all different income levels travel full time, and create their own way of doing it that works for them. You definitely don’t have to be rich to become full-time nomads, but there are things you need to account for financially to travel full-time successfully.

The main thing to be figured out before starting is how will you support yourself while you travel. Do you have a steady income? Will you or can you work while you travel? Can you live off of savings, and if so, for how long and how much should you give yourself every month? How big an emergency fund do you need? What expenses will you have? All of these questions require research and deep thought. But, once you know the numbers you can create a travel budget that fits your needs.

Regular recurring expenses (in our case: my student loan payment, our phone plan, and some insurance for automobile non-owners, so we are covered if we rent) are taken care of first, and are automatically withdrawn each month. After those, the big three items that need to be accounted four out of our net income are lodging; transportation (between locations); and an emergency fund. Once those are subtracted, how the rest of your net income is divided is up to you. We came up with a limit for how much we’re willing to spend each month on lodging, future transportation, and for our emergency fund, and then divided the rest of our net income into four sections that work no matter where we are: 1) food (i.e. local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous expenses.

Because everyone’s income sources and amounts, along with their needs and wants, will be different, no two budgets are ever going to look the same. Our budget works for us, but it’s just one way of doing things. In many ways though our travel budget is similar to our non-travel budget, but with some slight differences.

Because we stay in Airbnbs, and will be staying for at least two months in each place we visit, the first thing we have to decide is the maximum amount we are willing to spend each month on lodging. For us, this is 50% of our net income. Do we actually spend that much each month? NO WAY!! We made this amount quite large because the first month’s payment for any Airbnb rental always includes a service fee (which has increased) and a cleaning fee. These two extras can make the initial reservation payment unexpectedly large. Later payments are typically much, much less than the initial payment, but we put the difference between that 50% we’ve budgeted and what we actually pay each month into a separate lodgings savings account. These savings are then available for making future Airbnb reservation payments (if staying more than a month in a rental, Airbnb divides the total amount owed into monthly payments minus the fees). As I’ve noted before, Brett and I try to reserve a rental around six months ahead if possible because there are usually more available rentals in our price range to choose from, but others wait to reserve six week in advance or less. Basically, we are swapping out our current rental payment for lodging during our travels, and by saving and paying upfront for the first month of our first three rentals we have given ourselves some wiggle room to settle into the new payment schedule. By the way, one of the benefits of staying for longer than a month is many Airbnb hosts offer significant discounts for long-term stays, sometimes in the thousands of dollars (weekly discounts are also often given). There are also no utility payments or Internet fees with an Airbnb rental.

The second budget item set up is an amount to go into another separate savings account each month to cover transportation costs from location to location. This money is only used when buying airline or train tickets to a new location – sometimes that’s a lot, other times thankfully not so much. Once again, using some of our pre-departure savings to purchase tickets will allow us to ease into paying for other transportation later.

We also put a set amount into an emergency fund each month. Part of what we have been saving pre-departure has been used to create this fund but we will continue to add to it every month.

The rest of our net monthly income covers the costs of daily living no matter where we are in the world. After some trial and error on our last adventure, we figured out that an envelope system works best for us. That is, at the beginning of each month we withdraw our total monthly allotment in cash, and then divide that into four envelopes: 1) food (local grocery shopping); 2) local transportation; 3) dining out; and 4) miscellaneous (admission tickets, clothing if necessary, souvenirs, and other miscellaneous shopping). If there is money left over in any of the envelopes at the end of each month, we withdraw less the following month to bring things up to the same starting point. We found that the envelope system made a huge difference in our spending versus using debit and credit cards; that is, we spent less. We always had money left over at the end of each month in each envelope versus being over or right at our budget limit.

I cannot stress the importance of tracking every expense every day when you’re traveling. We get a receipt for absolutely everything we purchase, and Brett meticulously tracks our spending in a journal (along with notes about what we did that day, how far we walked, how many steps, etc.). At the beginning of each month he divides our income after lodging and transportation are removed by the number of days in the month to give us a daily spending average to maintain, and then figures out each day whether we’re below or above it (a weekly grocery shop usually puts us over our spending average for a few days, for example, but it drops again in a couple of days). Between what’s in the envelopes and our daily average, we know every day how we’re doing for the month or whether we need to slow down our spending for a while.

Budgeting for full time travel is about figuring out how to get the biggest bang for your bucks. You may choose to spend your income on better lodging or great experiences or first class transportation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In the end though it’s about living well, albeit carefully and realistically, on what you earn, with what you have, and in a way that suits you and allows you to make the most of what you have wherever you go.

4 thoughts on “Traveling Full Time: Financial Matters

  1. I have a friend who, last month, became ill on cruise ship, ended up in a hospital for three weeks in Mexico ( said it was actually some strain of flu and not Covid) and then was taken by medical air transport to the major medical facility in his state thousands of miles way from Mexico. I have no idea if travel insurance covers something like that. I didn’t ask him. He has been released from the U.S. hospital this week and is on a portable oxygen tank. I would think it would be horrifically expensive to have a medical air transport. Do most travel insurance companies cover something like this, or does your former military service and insurance help in this type of medical evacuation? I had never even thought about it until it happened to him. Yikes!

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    1. There is insurance for medical evacuation; it is usually bundled with travel insurance. We’re in a weird position though because we have government/military insurance. We are excluded from most travel insurance plans because we are already covered worldwide but I have yet to find any company that sells the evacuation insurance separately (and I have looked and looked). I’m sure it probably exists somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet (and it probably costs A LOT). It would be VERY expensive to have to pay for evacuation out of pocket; our best hope would be a nearby overseas military hospital.

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  2. I likewise track obsessively when we travel. I find it freeing in that it eliminates worry. The money is there to be spent, meaning enjoyed. It’s nor meant to remain unspent.

    I find it also acts as a filter against impulse buys that fall into the category of ‘unsatisfying.’ Knowing I’ll have to jot down $1 for a bottle of water, because I was to rushed to take the time and fill my own plastic bottle, annoys me to no end. I’d much rather spend that $1 on something unique that provides a memory.

    One of our favorite ways to spend our travel days is to walk and walk and walk. The world looks different on foot, and delightful little interactions and discoveries almost always occur. It will be so interesting to see if the sensory of your travels this go around shift just a bit as a result of the enhanced fitness level you and Brett are bringing along with you. 😊

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    1. Tracking all our travel funds has likewise kept us from overspending and know what we can afford and what we cannot. We splurge from time to time but because of Brett’s careful tracking know we can afford it.

      I admit to being a little worried about all the cobblestones in Strasbourg (the uneven surface can murder on my bursitis) but for the most part can’t wait to be in a place where we can walk pretty much everywhere, every day. We’re not in the same league as you and your husband when it comes to distances, but we feel like we’re in much better shape this time than the last and it will be interesting to see how far we can go.

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