How We Afford Full-Time Travel with Kids

How we afford full-time rv travel with kids, www.marianamcdougall.com

Lots of people have asked us how we can afford to travel. We were asked this question back in 2008, when we went on our North American Swing Road Trip, and back then we didn’t have any kids. I think people are even more curious to know how a couple with three children can hit the road on only one income. Here’s the low down on how we do this.

We had no consumer debt.

We have credit cards and use them every day, but we pay them off in full at the end of every month. We have never carried a balance on our credit cards. We did have a line of credit that we used for a bit, and we did have student debt after graduating university. We both paid off all our student debt as quickly as we could, and then lived within our means, eventually also paying off the line of credit without much issue.

We had some savings

We had some savings for the trip that we had been setting aside for a couple of years. It seems like such a foreign concept to so many people—to save up for something. I’ve even had someone say to me that “you have to have debt to live with three kids.” That’s so not true. It’s all about where you want to spend your money.

We don’t particularly care what the inside of  our house looks like, or what our cars look like, as long as they’re functional. We choose to spend our money on what matters to us—adventures and travel. As Paula Pant would say, “you can’t afford everything, but you can afford anything”. Save the money for what matters to you.

One of us still worked on the road

While Dan’s job isn’t exactly nomad-friendly, I’m a freelance writer. Working for myself means I get to work from anywhere, so I kept freelancing on the road. While we couldn’t life off my earnings (at least not while I’m only working part-time so I can enjoy the trip), it certainly helps. 

We found free places to stay as often as possible

We’re not ashamed to park our RV at a Walmart parking lot and stay the night where allowed. It’s pretty convenient, too. Because we have a small fridge, we grocery shop frequently, so if we’re already spending the night at a Walmart, we just go in and get our groceries. We’ve also stayed at Cracker Barrels and some other places—stay tuned for a post all about boondocking.

We found free stuff to do as often as possible

To be able to travel for a year, you do have to watch your expenses. We saved money by purchasing the year passes for both the Canadian as well as the American national parks/historic sites. Since we visited a lot of these, it was much cheaper to buy the passes than to pay as we went. 

We visited a tonne of libraries,  which was a lot of fun to do and was also completely free.

We Googled “free things to do with kids” in each location we visited, picked the most fun-sounding ones, and off we went.

We chose to spend the money on the activities that we were really excited about—like the science centre in Regina and eating out in places like Lou Manalti’s in Chicago. We also spent the money on a Six Flags season pass for all five of us, because (most of) our family loves roller coasters.

Here’s what we recommend if you want to hit the road full time

How we afford full-time rv travel with kids, www.marianamcdougall.com

We have a pretty simple process for affording full-time family travel. Here it is:

  1. Pay off all your debt.
  2. Don’t make any more debt.
  3. Stop spending money to “buy things you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t like.
  4. Save up for the things that matter to you.
  5. Travel on a budget if needed: learn the free stuff to do in the places you visit. Even expensive places like Southern California offer plenty of free fun if you know where to look. Look for free places to stay in you RV or van (more on this in a later post).
  6. Be flexible. Life with kids, whether travelling or in a sticks-and-bricks home, requires flexibility. It’s good to accept that not everything will always go according to plan, and to be able and willing to switch plans on the go. For example, our 12-month trip got cut down to nine months, we didn’t visit British Columbia like I wanted to, I didn’t get a full year without snow, and we didn’t get to go to San Francisco. While these things were upsetting, I learned to concentrate on the amazing things we were able to do this year, and to remember that there’s always the next adventure to look forward to.

While to some people it may seem we’re rich because we can afford full-time travel, this isn’t true. We are not swimming in cash—we’ve just learned to spend it on what’s important to us.

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