We all dream of heading off on those multi month or even year long adventures. But the one thing we all get a little squirrely about is the perceived cost. Over the course of our 18 month overland Americas adventure the one question we were asked almost daily was “How do you afford to live fulltime on the road?”
Especially as we were travelling as a couple with two motorcycles. So people would always assume that the cost of everything doubled.
Before we even got to the point of getting on the road we did have to make some big sacrifices, which we talk about a little in Just Do It! Minimise Stuff, Maximise Life. In this article we discuss some ways to save your hard earned dollars while on the road.
#1: Free Camping
We found that by finding listed free camps, or even stealth camping, we could save $15+ every day on paid campsites and even more by not staying in hotels. Now while that doesn’t sound like much, it does add up. Each week that’s a saving of $105. With our budget of just $50 a day that equals an extra 2 days travel that we saved every week. Times that by the 52 weeks in a year and that’s a whopping $5460! But, and I’ll be honest here, free camping every single day does wear thin. So we treated ourselves to a cheap motel room every 10 days or so. Never anything fancy, but something with a bed, hot shower and wifi. We discovered that we could only go for about 10 days before we wanted a shower and this was how we dealt with it.
#2: Travel Slower
Yes I know. This one makes no sense. But, by travelling slower overland in a vehicle you won’t burn as much fuel, you won’t be servicing your vehicle every week and you will just extend that time away from having to go back to work. Thus taking much longer to cover the same distance and therefore seeing and experiencing more.
The hardest part in coming to grips with this one is overcoming the good old ‘Destination Fixation’. Where we are so fixated on where we are ending our trip that we rush rush rush to get there. Slow it down!
If you are going for the cheap motel and not so much of the free camping you can generally negotiate cheaper rates for longer stays. Sometimes you can even negotiate free breakfasts!
#3: Research Fuel Prices
The cost of running a vehicle overland is primarily eaten up in fuel expenses. In the more developed countries it is easy to jump online and find out where the cheapest, or even the most expensive, fuel stops are. Arming yourself with this knowledge can tell you whether to fuel up before crossing into a new country or holding off until you cross the border. We quite often found that a small distance of just 20 kms between one border fuel stop and the next could mean a significant difference in fuel costs. Both high and low.
#4: Cooking vs Eating Out
This one can depend totally on where you are and the type of fuel source you are using for your cooker. We found that while in Australia, Canada and the US it was definitely way more budget friendly for us to cook our own meals. And love it or hate, or love to hate it, we found the best places to shop were the chain stores. Woolworths and Walmart. As much as we don’t like to give our hard earned cash to these giants they are often very budget friendly.
However, once we got south of the US border it became almost as cheap to eat out as it was to cook for ourselves. For example, in Mexico we could buy a huge meal that was more than enough to feed us both for less than $5. By the time we bought the ingredients, burnt the gas to cook it and used the water to clean up the costs worked out similar but came with none of the headache. The cheaper foods are always going to be found on the street. Don’t be scared to try the street food. Just look for the places that are busy as they will have a higher turnover for food.
#5: Use Hosting Services
We were hesitant in the beginning about staying in a stranger’s home in a foreign country. But by the time we had been hosted a few times it became second nature and we met some amazing people who we forged everlasting friendships with,.
For motorcyclists try www.motostays.com. This site has hosts that are generally motorcyclists too and most offer parking and sometimes even a workshop for your bike. Couchsurfing is also very popular and we have met many a traveller who has used it along the way. They often have formed lifelong friendships with their hosts. For those of you who are going by pedal power there is a hosting group called Warm Showers. They offer a bed, a place to shower and generally feed you as well.
In our experience, while it is not necessary, we found that it was always nice to turn up with a gift. Either a bottle of wine or maybe a contribution towards dinner, eg dessert. Every single host we stayed with fed us, watered us and provided us with everything we could need. Some even lending us their personal car to get around in. If you do take advantage of these hosting services then make sure that you give back at the end of your travels and offer other travellers a place to stay.
#6: Just Saying Yes
As you travel along you will no doubt meet many amazing people. Some of these people will invite you back to their place for dinner or to offer you a place to sleep and rest. Our advice, after feeling them out a little of course, is just jump in and say yes.
The first time we accepted an offer from a pair of strangers in a Tim Hortons diner in Canada is one of our fondest memories from our trip. Through this lovely couple we ended staying with members of their extended family and friends all across British Columbia. Sometimes it pays to just say YES!
#7: Pick Your Attractions
While it would be amazing to be able to visit every ruin and temple and wander through every museum it will mean your budget takes a hit. Plan for this. Pick out the top attractions you just can not pass up and do them first. Again, research is your friend here. Some places may offer discounted or even free entry on special holidays of the year, or alternatively these days can cause huge hikes in entry prices depending on the popularity of the attraction.
Remember, while some places may seem like “never to be missed”, they can be overcrowded, full of beggars, touts and scammers and this can take away from your experience.
#8: Travel in the shoulder or off seasons
We always try to travel in the off peak seasons. Even just a month either side of the peak tourist season can mean massive discounts on everything from flights and accommodation through to food and attraction entry prices.
You also won’t have to battle crowds of other tourists, hordes of touts or the disappointment when attractions may be sold out. The only downsides, you may have to deal with less than ideal weather and the chance that some places may close sections off for repairs and maintenance.
As you approach the next town or city where you plan to stay a while jump online and look for free events. Many cities have huge street festivals at one time or another in the year and you should get on board. It’s a great way to listen to some local bands, people watch and dance in the street. Also here is where you will find some of the tastiest and cheapest street foods. It is also where you will likely find some of the most expensive souvenirs!
#10: Get Off the Tourist Trail
There are spots all around the world where tourists throng. Phuket in Thailand, Kuta in Bali, Ensenada in Baja Mexico..the list goes on. Avoid these places in peak tourist times. Prices here are jacked up for everything. You can pretty much guarantee that you will pay double the local price for food, beers and souvenirs. Sometimes just getting back from the tourist strips by just one or two blocks will bring the prices back down and provide you with a much better and definitely more authentic travel experience.
If you have your own vehicle try heading off the highways and out to some of the small hidden away villages. You might be surprised at what you will find! Plus the locals will likely want to interact with you and show you their corner of the world. We did this all throughout Colombia and we were generally the only tourists in town.
#11: Be Strict With Your Budget. Stick to it!
Above all you should do your best to stick to your daily or weekly budget. Always allow a little extra each day for unplanned emergencies. Anything can crop up. If you’re sick you may want to stop in a hotel for a few days or you may need medication. Vehicles do suffer breakdowns from wear and tear so you need to allow for this. Or you may need to fly home to visit a sick relative. Never assume the worst, but do have a backup just in case.
And just remember to factor in the costs of getting back home at the end of your trip. Especially if you plan on taking your vehicle with you. We met many a traveller who had to call in favours from friends and family just to scratch together enough money to fly home. At some point you will want to go home and take a break from travelling.
Now get out there and get adventuring!!
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Want to get in touch with Todd about this article? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to read more about financing your trip? Head over to Money! Switch Up Your Thinking and Finance Your Adventure