We love hearing from people who are considering van life, people who just need a little push to take the plunge and buy a van but aren't sure how to do it. We get messages every week and the number one question we get asked is:
How do you guys afford to travel?
Well we thought we'd let you in on a few secrets as to how we manage to do so much travelling on so little money, and only work 6 months of the year.
Our main source of income is our work / travel balance. We work for 6 months of the year back in the UK and travel around Europe for 8. One of the best and worst things about living in Cornwall is that our jobs need us most in the busy summer months but usually cut their staff back during the winter when it's quiet. It's ideal for us to spend the winter travelling but it sucks if you live there.
Between March and September we work crazy busy shifts, racking up 40-60 hours a week. Ben works as a chef and Lucy works different jobs, sometimes cleaning, waitressing, bartending, shop work as well as running her own B&B from home. Our jobs are nothing glamorous or special, but if we work long and hard enough we can save up enough funds to live on while we're on the road.
Our only other source of income is through our website. We make money using Google Adsense, who pay out per click or per number of impressions, but it's only a small amount. We also make money through eBay affiliate links, those blue links you see on our Build Page. We find the cheapest products for you and if you buy something through our link we get a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. It's a win win.
We're still expanding ways we can make money online without a steady internet connection, and one day we hope to be able to work for ourselves with this as our main source of income.
In order to keeping travelling for as long as possible and squeeze the most out of our savings we budget, and we budget hard.
We set ourselves each a £10 a day budget; that's £70 a week or £300 a month. That's for food, fuel, water and everything else in between. This is the maximum amount we allow ourselves to spend, but if we're careful we can usually spend quite a bit less and save even more money. More money = more time travelling.
Sure, it can be hard living on next to nothing, and we can't always afford meals out or entrance fees to attractions or new clothes, but new experiences are much more valuable to us. Why pay €20 to go to a spa when we could soak in a thermal pool under the stars for free? Why spend €30 on a meal out when that could buy us a week's food? Food which tastes just as good as, if not better than a restaurant, cooked on hot charcoals in the mountains with a beer in hand.
Let's break our budget down into four key categories:
Water has the potential to be either one of our smallest or our biggest expenses. When you think about everything that you'd use water for in a house; drinking, cooking, washing, bathing, you start to realise just how much you really use, and you need to get creative to minimise this amount when you live in a van.
Whenever we pass a drinking tap or a spring, we stop and fill up our drinking bottles, our tank and a few reserve bottles too. This will usually give us a weeks' worth of water for washing (mostly washing up, we use around 25L a week) and the same again for drinking and cooking.
Also if we get the chance to park by a river or lake, providing the water's clean we take the opportunity to wash our clothes by boiling up kettles of water, and if it's warm outside we'll also go in for a dip, although a swim in the sea works just as well. Washing our clothes by hand in the sink saves us around €20 in laundrettes a month, but we'll probably go to one every two months to wash larger items like bedding and jumpers.
We can never turn down a free shower, and although we do have a shower in our van, a 2 minute wash can use up to 8 litres of water. Luckily most countries have free (cold) showers on their beaches, and when we meet up with people through Couchsurfing sometimes they even offer us a hot shower in their house!
When we're feeling extra thrifty we'll even fill up buckets of water from a river and use them to scrub the van- who needs to pay for a car wash?
Food is our second biggest expense after fuel, and we try and keep our food bills as low as possible while still cooking healthy, filling meals.
The key here is probably that we cook all our own meals and rarely eat out; our average food bill is around €30-40 a week.
We cook up giant pots of food to last us 3 days at a time, bulk it out with cheap staples like bread and rice, and try and use whichever ingredients are the cheapest in the area we're in, whether that's tinned foods like beans, dried pulses like lentils, or fresh, seasonal veg from markets or roadside sellers.
These are our personal favourites as they're usually always homegrown and half the price of shops, and gives us a chance to mix up our meals a bit and try new recipes. But our favourite kind of eating out is building a fire, cooking up a hot, smoky pot of chilli and sipping beers while the sun goes down.
Check out Ben's recipe for Three Day Chilli, or for more ideas about cooking on a budget check out this article here.
Diesel is our biggest expense and unfortunately one that's unavoidable. Depending on how many miles we're covering we can spend anywhere from €40 - €100 a week. There's not much we can do about our fuel bill, apart from seizing the chance when we spot a cheap fuel station on our route. We also use a fuel checker app for whichever country we're in to help us find the best prices, which can often be hidden away in towns.
We've picked out the best fuel-checking app for each country over on our Country Guides pages.
Also- forget campsites, forget rip off parking places, and forget toll roads. They're expensive, they're unnecessary and there's free alternatives around. Each toll road fee or parking ticket we save money on is a little extra diesel in the tank.
Extras & emergencies
It's important to always keep aside a little extra cash for the unexpected things like breakdowns, repairs, the ferry home, and also extra little things you wouldn't think of which all add up, like sending postcards home, gas refills, toiletries, cool things you find at the market. It's good to be prepared, even if you don't know what lies ahead on the journey.
So that's it really, a breakdown of our weekly budget and how we afford to travel as much as we do. There's no trick to it apart from living simply, spending carefully and enjoying the free things in life.
Oh and as I said before- forget about campsites. Park your van up by the sea, up a mountain, anywhere you can see the stars at night and the sun rise in the morning. The finer things in life are free, after all.
Do you have any budgeting tips to share? Leave a comment below!