Traveling full-time sounds like a lot of fun, but if you’re not careful it can become expensive very quickly. In this article, I’ll share the top 7 ways to save money while traveling full-time.
The largest full-time travel expense for many, including us, is lodging. Watch the video below to find ways to save on campgrounds or read on for more tips.
There are many variables in where you choose to park your RV, and all impact the bottom line.
- Hook ups or Not? We often enjoy full hook up campgrounds which means water, electricity, and sewer. I especially like amenities like swimming pools or shuttles to nearby cities. However, this doesn’t have to mean staying at an RV Resort, many national, state, and even municipal park campgrounds have full hook ups and are less expensive than RV resorts.
- Length of Stay. Many commercial RV resorts and campgrounds offer discounts for weekly and monthly stays, and we like to take advantage of these not only to cut back on expenses, but to reduce travel fatigue as well. These can be significant. For example, we booked a one-month stay this winter in South Florida. The daily rate is $49, but the monthly rate was $746, which comes out to $25 per night, saving 50%. Please be aware that some places charge for metered electricity when offering a monthly rate.
- There are many membership type discounts and you have to decide if the cost of the membership will be worth it to you. We use Passport America for our shorter stays in particular. It only $44 a year, and a 50% discount on a single 2-night stay in a place like Florida pays for it right away!
Others discount clubs include Escapees and Good Sam. In addition, some fraternal organizations like the Elks offer sites at their lodges around the country for nominal fees. Finally, if you are a veteran, always ask if there is a military discount.
- Campground Memberships. There are also campground memberships like Thousand Trails. They have 86 campgrounds divided among 5 camping zones: Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, Northeast and Southeast. You can choose to join one or all of them. We’re not members so I can’t give you a review. I’ve heard both good and bad and there is even a Facebook group called Thousand Trails Likes/Dislikes.
Our next greatest expense and opportunity for saving money while traveling is food. This includes two separate line items on our budget:
- Eating Out: First off, we save money by not eating out very often. It also helps save a few pounds as well. To see how I use my small kitchen for our meals click here. We save our eating out allowance for the places that are unique to an area, and we try to stay away from overly touristy places. In my experience, the best local places to eat are the mom and pop hole-in-the-wall places. The food is usually better and more authentic, and costs far less. When we’re going to be spending a day out, we will usually eat a hearty breakfast before heading out, take a picnic lunch and snacks with us, and try to get back to the RV for dinner.
- Groceries: One of the easiest ways to save money on groceries is by using coupons. You can go old school and pick up a Sunday paper in virtually any city to get coupons, or you can use websites like coupons.com that let you select and print coupons. Also, most chain groceries stores like Safeway or Publix have online coupons you can link to your shopper card and save at the register without ever having to cut any coupons. Another great way to save money, and eat healthier is to shop at Farmer’s Markets. The produce is generally fresher and less expensive than at the grocery stores.
Another big expense and opportunity for saving money while traveling is fuel. The best way we’ve found to cut down on this expense is to slow down. Shorter distances between moves, and longer stays at each location reduce the amount of fuel we use. Also since we have a fifth wheel with a large dually as our local transportation, we use our bikes, public transportation, and RV park shuttles whenever we can.
Click here to read even more tips for saving on fuel.
We also save money while traveling by living a simpler life and trying to be kinder to the environment. For example, we use our dishes instead of paper plates. Also, we have a rule on clothing that if we buy something new, something old has to go. In other words, replacement items only. This saves space and money.
Perform Your Own Preventative Maintenance
One way we’ve recently started saving money while traveling is by performing some of our own preventative maintenance on our RV. We were looking at a copy of an RV service center’s pricing list, and Sean thought he could do much of the items on his own. For example, they recommended annual Water Heater Service for $67.50. Sean read our owner’s manual, did a little research, then felt confident enough to complete the maintenance tasks on his own. He posted a video about it here. Another preventative maintenance task he recently completed that was also listed for $67.50 was annual Battery Service. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to follow Sean as he learns about more simple maintenance tasks you can do to save money.
Finally, we save money while traveling by enjoying as much free fun as we can. This includes hiking, biking, visiting beaches, and other nature spots. Many cities have a free days, or often evenings, to visit museums. When we have to pay an entry fee, we’ll look for discounts on Groupon when we’re visiting a new area. We also always ask about any military discount. There are also museum discount programs that are reciprocal. For example, I purchased a membership with the Southeastern Reciprocal Membership Program. The family membership is $72.75. The admission for the Ringling Museum in Sarasota for a family of four is $60 (2 adults, 2 children). If you go to just one other museum on the list, you’ve saved money! There’s also the North American Reciprocal Museum (NARM) Association® which has 924 member institutions. At every stop in our travels, I write about how I save money. Recently we visited Washington DC and I shared some ideas for Budget Friendly Fun in our Nation’s Capital.
Stick to a Budget
This really should have been the first tip because it is the most important. Really, the only way to be sure you’re saving money is to have a budget and stick to it! It is way to easy for all the small things you buy to add up. I use a free budget app to create a budget and track my spending right from my phone. By tracking my expenses and spending, I know exactly where my money is going, and then I can apply the other techniques I talked about earlier to try to reduce a specific item. I use a method called zero-based budgeting and you can learn more about it here.
Click here to get our free Full-Time RV budget worksheets.
Find more tips on saving money, budgeting and earning an income on the road in our program: Full-Time RV Finance.
These are all really great tips for saving money. Oh to be able to travel all over the US in an RV. The things you must see and enjoy!
We are having a great time. That’s for sure. Thanks for stopping by my blog!
All good points. Do you mind giving a rough estimate of what you full monthly budget is? I am just starting to put mine together as we are headed out full time in October. I think my largest monthly expense is going to be my ACA health insurance.
Luckily for us, we are veterans and use the VA for health care so we don’t have that huge expense. Our biggest expense is our RV payment, which is a whopping $763 per month! The insurance for full-timing is about $90 per month. Our monthly campground fees are usually around $800-900. We’re filming a video today on how to save on that. A blog post will come out shortly. If you subscribe, you’ll get an email. We have a fifth wheel so the truck fuel is pricey. Right now around $300 a month because we’ve been traveling back to see my grandma who had open heart surgery and is a couple of hours away from where we’re currently camped.
Kristi @ Way Beyond The Norm says
Great tips! I used to coupon quite a bit in my pre-crunchy days. Now there’s not much out there as far as coupons for the stuff we buy. I’m coming back to this when we finally get on the road so that I can check out the museum passes. NEED those for homeschooling!
Julie Chickery says
I don’t get to do as much couponing either. We’re plant-based eaters now and I also buy a lot of things like grains and oats from the bulk bins. That is actually a saving tip I could add – haha!
Great tips! We’ve been stationary for a while so it will be interesting when we get back on the road here soon. We’re gonna feel like newbies all over again, ha! Definitely gonna have to keep these things in mind, thanks for sharing!
Julie Chickery says
Thanks for visiting my website, Katie! I felt the same way last year. We spent Oct – Jan in one spot and I didn’t know what to do when we moved again.
For a first time RVer I would suggest buying an older well made model – and pay cash! My 1986 Minnie Winnie is cozy and comfortable. I enjoyed fixing her up and making her mine. I don’t have a monthly payment. My insurance is $189 twice a year.
We also recommend buying used now. We made the mistake of taking the depreciation hit on ours when we bought new.