It's been over 50 days now since we started our 6 month US road trip. To say that we have learned a lot is an understatement. We've changed plans about a billion times, had dozens of arguments and discussions, and just flat out realize how travel doesn't really allow you to have it all figured out. But, that being said we have learned several things we can do better that will make our road trip much easier.
If you are new to who we are. We are Kyle and Makenna Gott. We've been married since 2014 and Kyle just finished his 6-year enlistment in the Air Force and we have committed to traveling full time. We currently have a converted 2002 Chevy Suburban that we put a bed in the back and if we can't find friends or family to stay with, we just sleep in the truck!
The 5 things we have learned about long-term travel
1. It's better to under-pack than over-pack
We thought we were on top of packing for this trip. Bringing everything we would need, should need, or might need. But the truth is. After 50+ days living out of our vehicle and staying with friends or family, we weren't using A LOT of stuff we had brought with us. We've downsized 3 times on this road trip so far. once in Iowa, once in Illinois, and once in Ohio. We actually ran into a guy on this trip who had done long-term travel in his jeep before and his advice was to take the FOR SURE things that you will be using every week. And everything else you can get along the way if you truly need it. We still have several things that we have just because. The hard thing is, once you have it, it's hard to get rid of. If you don't have it to start with, while you travel you won't feel the need to buy something unless it is for sure necessary for your trip. This has been our favorite lesson of the trip.
2. Don't eat out all the time
Now I know some of you may be thinking... Going on vacation and not trying all the amazing food?! But this is about long-term travel. If you are going on a short trip. Go for it! But if you are doing long-term travel, food is one of the most expensive things on a trip. In order to make your money last for a long trip. How much you spend on food will be crucial to how far your money goes. For us, we recently bought a cooler for the Suburban. not a fancy one, but it will do the job. we can keep ice packs in it and freeze them every few days when we make it to friends or families houses. We can store cheap food in the cooler so we don't have to stop for fast food on the road or go to a restaurant in the evenings. Some meals on our trip have cost us between $25-$60 for the two of us. We realized very quickly that food money was going to rack up if we didn't change our ways. We can eat for the month for under $150 if we don't eat out at all. Even $150 would allow us to eat really good on our own. If you are looking for a very simple way to save money on travel whether it's long-term travel or not, making your own meals is a good start!
3. It's fairly easy to find a free place to stay
Now, this might take some open-mindedness which I know some people might struggle with when it comes to being in a new city, state or country with people you don't know. But it's all part of the experience. Honestly, our FAVORITE part of our road trip so far has been the amazing random people we've met and become friends with. There are several ways to stay somewhere for free. I'm going to run through these options from the most comfortable and least concerning to the most "holy crap people actually do that?" for a free place to stay while traveling:
Friends of friends
Camp on BLM land
Couchsurfing app (Stay with other people who travel but open up their homes to you)
Sleep in your vehicle (Not comfortable. But you get what you pay for ;) haha)
Ask a complete stranger for a place to stay (at least ask someone who doesn't seem sketchy)
Ask a restaurant or store for a place to stay (we've slept in a pizza restaurant)
There are dozens more options but these are the ones we have personally experienced and have worked for us to ensure we save money on traveling. Lodging and food are 2 of the top 3 expenses while traveling long term. The next tip is most likely the most expensive.
4. Pay for memories not activities
This is a big thing for us. Since we've been traveling we've done a lot of things. Sometimes that results in us not ever thinking about that activity ever again. Sometimes it's the highlight of our day or even the whole trip. Activities might possibly be the most expensive part of any trip. Let's be honest, why go on a trip and not do anything? But what we have learned is we need to focus on what we truly enjoy. What have been experiences that were amazing, that made our day. Then, how do we make them happen more! We've learned a lot of things we don't like and a lot of things we do like. We realized that we need to learn from that and stop doing things we know have little chance of being an amazing memory and to focus our time and money on the things we know will leave a lasting impression on this trip. Sometimes we get suckered into doing things just because we are on vacation or on a trip instead of just sitting out to relax and do nothing. Because we all know we've spent money on activities, shows or sports and later told ourselves "that wasn't worth the money" How can we take thos times and learn from it to prevent us from making that same mistake in the future. For us, that means spending less time feeling like we have to do EVERYTHING somewhere and only doing what truly seems like the most important thing to us. This allows you to make great experiences but also relax and take in that memory rather than rushing off to the next thing to blow your money on. We've learned that doing just 1-2 things every other day is a good balance for long-term travel. It allows us to not get overwhelmed with being on the go constantly and it saves our wallet from losing money on activities we wouldn't have loved.
5. Always have extra money
This might seem like a no-brainer but the reality is, a lot of people live paycheck to paycheck. It's stressful enough not having extra money to spare, but even more so when you're on vacation trying to have fun. Kyle has a saying he tells everyone "short-term sacrifices lead to long-term gains" This can me, not traveling us much to save your money up or giving up other things that aren't extremely important to you but you've been spending money on. For us, we didn't have a couch, TV, Netflix, or video game systems in our house for over 2 years. To us, it was more fun to spend 1 weekend a month going out of town than to have a couch at home and play video games all week. There are a lot of things that we do daily or weekly that we don't truly care about, but we do it because it's the norm in society. One of those bad norms is spending money when you get it. For us, we've spent the last 4 years income tax returns paying off our student loans and other debts. We have zero credit card debt and no student loans. We have a car loan with a car that is under warranty until 2020 and our home loan which we have over $70,000 in equity. For us, whenever we had extra money it went to paying off what we already had gotten but hadn't paid off or it went towards travel. That was it. Our hobby is travel and we know travel is expensive so we chose to give up all other hobbies to just focus on one and be able to afford it. A lot of life comes down to sacrifices. List out the things that you enjoy the most and are the most important to you over the long term. Then focus on the top 2-3, or maybe even focus on 1 as we do. You'll see yourself spend less money on things and it will actually make you happier because you'll still get to do what you love and you'll have more money! Once you start spending less money, your goal should be to save up money. We have money in several things that we can pull from whenever we need it. We have stocks, cryptocurrency, Robinhood account, acorns account, and checkings and savings. Kyle has a retirement fund with the Air Force and we both have retirement funds ourselves we've been putting money into. Having extra money means you don't have to worry about your finances while you're on vacation or on a trip. If you set yourself up to have money to cover yourself if something happens you'll be able to enjoy your time off more.
I hope this helps you with your own travels. Even if you are doing short-term travel. Some of these tips can help you save money! Best of luck and we hope to see you guys around!
- Kyle & Makenna Gott (Gott Love)