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How to Budget for a Year of Travel

By andrew - February 6, 2015 (Updated: September 15, 2016)

How to budget for a year of travel in Europe

What does it cost to quit your job and live full-time in a motorhome while slow travelling around Europe for a year? Honestly, we don’t know exactly, but here is how we made our estimate.

Living full-time in a motorhome is going to be challenging. Doing so without a guaranteed income makes it seem even more daunting. When we first discussed this idea, in mid-2012, I was overwhelmed – It would be too expensive and we had debt to pay too. How could we ever afford it?

The answer: planning, (and a patient wife.)

It seems simple. But I was leaping straight to the end goal, without considering the time and steps necessary to get there. Looking only at our goal of living in a motorhome, I thought it had to happen as soon as possible (like, tomorrow) and the impossibility of the challenge made me almost nauseous.

Looking back on this makes me feel silly. My corporate life required constant project and business planning. I did an MBA for crying out loud. I KNOW to achieve a goal requires planning. Prior planning prevents poor performance. Right? So why did I feel overwhelmed?

The answer is probably not as simple and likely boring (unless you want to psychoanalyze me). What is clear is our finances were one of my major walls: how could we afford to live for a year with no income – and buy a motorhome?

Show Me the Euros!

Show Me the Euros!

A few years ago, Warren & Betsy Talbot wrote a book, Dream Save Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers. You probably know them from previous posts we’ve written. In brief, they left their corporate lives behind them, in 2011, and haven’t looked back. Many of their friends and people they met would exclaim how they’d love to be able to live their dream but would never be able to afford it. They’d ask Warren & Betsy how they managed to do it. Their answer was Dream. Save. Do.

It seems too obvious to be true, but the advice and strategies Warren & Betsy shared were amazingly helpful for us (me) to get to grips with the anxiety. We already had our dream, so it was time to figure out how to achieve it. It was time to make a plan.

Dream. Save. Do. helped me realize we didn’t need to know the exact financial numbers. In fact, it was impossible to know the exact numbers. We needed to put together a rough estimate of our costs, as quickly as possible, just to get a sense of the scale. These estimates would help us decide how long it would take to pay off debt and save the necessary money. The estimated time would give us a set of milestones in our calendar to work towards.

Again, it seems simple. However, the first step, estimating costs, is a challenge. At a minimum, we needed to estimate our budget for a year on the road plus the cost of a motorhome. We’ve never travelled in a motorhome or lived on the road fulltime, so how could we make an estimate?

Fortunately, we are not exactly pioneers. We are fortunate to know quite a few corporate runaways and some of them have openly shared their costs of living.

  • First, we have Warren & Betsy again. Although their main website is MarriedWithLuggage.com (now known as AnUnclutteredLife.com), they published the costs of their round the world travels, monthly, on RTWExpenses.com. The site is a great source of information about day-to-day costs of living on the road and it demonstrates you don’t need a fortune to travel around the world. Yes, you have to make sacrifices (no 5-star hotels, d’oh!), but you also don’t need to deny yourself completely.
  • Second, perhaps unbeknownst to them, Jason and Julie from OurTour.co.uk have been a great source of inspiration. In 2011, they bought a used motorhome, named Dave, and took their life on the road, with their dog, Charlie, for a year. Two years later, they were still going, because they found the cost of living to be cheaper than they budgeted. Like the Talbots, they also kept track of their expenses and shared them on their website.

Interestingly, although both couples travelled full-time in different ways, their overall costs are very similar. Using these resources, we could easily cross-check our spending assumptions.

“Estimating costs is pretty straightforward, so long as you accept any estimate will be wrong.”

Estimating the cost of a motorhome

The scariest bit of our estimate is the huge (to us) cost of buying a motorhome. It is critical to our success on the road to have a good machine. It has to work 24/7 as both a home and a vehicle. Also, we know next to nothing about vehicles, let alone motorhomes.

So we went to a couple motorhome shows, in Brussels, called ‘Mobicar’. It is a great way to get a sense of the models, sizes, layouts, and prices. Exploring the options has helped us identify the layout and style of motorhome we want. It has also clarified we can’t afford to buy a new one – Time to look at the used market.

Shiny and new - but not for us

Shiny and new – but not for us

Since neither of us is mechanically inclined, despite my father-in-law’s talents in that area, we are not comfortable looking at anything very old. Something 10-12 years old is our target. (I’m sure we’ll still need some expert advice when we are looking to buy, so perhaps our budget needs to include a couple of flights from Canada?)

Searching for used motorhomes is a bit overwhelming, due to the choice, so we focused on Hymer as a brand. Our primary reason for this is Dave (Jason & Julie’s motorhome) is a Hymer B544, which is pretty close to the model and size we preferred at the motorhome show. We then narrowed the choices down to sizes small enough to drive on most roads in Europe, meaning less than 3500kg in weight. With these criteria, we found most motorhomes were somewhere between €20k and €30k. So, taking the mid-point, we are estimating the cost of a used motorhome to be €25k +/- €5k, depending on options and any extra work we may need to do. This budget also needs to include taxes and insurance. So maybe we’ll be looking at the 15-year-old motorhomes!

Twenty-five thousand Euros is a big chunk of money, but, considering it will become our home, it is important to get the best we can afford. If we only did a year of travel, a €25k motorhome would be equivalent to €2083.33 per month in rent. But stretch that to two years or more and you can see how the savings build up. Plus, we can sell it at the end and recoup some of our investment.

Day-to-Day Living Costs

Having estimated the cost to purchase a used motorhome, we turned to the cost of day-to-day living. One clear benefit of a motorhome is having our own kitchen, so we can prepare most of our own meals. However, we also have to pay for gas (both petrol and cooking) and find a place to camp for the night. This is where the spending information posted by Jason & Julie was extremely helpful.

Looking at their 600 day spending report, Jason & Julie averaged €46.50 per day on their travels. In their post, they split up their costs into various buckets, such as supermarkets, eating out, diesel, repairs, and more. Likewise, Warren & Betsy have also broken out their costs into categories, allowing us to easily compare the two couples.

Coming up with our travel budget was that complicated afterall

Coming up with our travel budget was that complicated after all

Roughly speaking, they both spend about the same amount per month on food and alcohol. Jason & Julie don’t break out alcohol and Warren & Betsy don’t separate costs for eating out. However, putting the categories together you end up with $601 and $670, respectively, on food and alcohol per month. Knowing our own proclivities for food and drink, we shall assume a slightly higher monthly budget.

Beyond food and alcohol, we’ve decided to use Jason & Julie’s experience as a guideline and we built the rest of our estimates based on theirs. Here is what we’ve estimated:

Category Monthly Yearly
Food €400 €4,800
Alcohol €200 €2,400
Fuel €250 €3,000
Repairs €150 €1,800
Campsites €150 €1,800
Other Travel €100 €1,200
Phones/Internet €75 €900
Tours, etc €75 €900
Overnight stops €50 €600
Clothes & Laundry €50 €600
Supplies €50 €600
LPG €25 €300
Cats €50 €600
Tolls €15 €180
Miscellaneous €10 €120
Souvenirs €10 €120
Parking €10 €120
TOTAL €1,670 €20,040

As you can see, we’ve used round numbers, but we will have the opportunity to refine them as we plan and decide how (and where) we want to travel. Will we drive more or less than Jason & Julie? Will we be able to find as much free camping? Will our motorhome have as many issues as they’ve needed to sort out? How will we connect to the internet? Some of these questions we can’t begin to answer until we start on the journey itself.

So, at a high level, we now have our budget. To be able to travel for the first year, we need approximately €45-50k. After year one, the cost of living drops to just the day-to-day expenses, so if we can find more ways to make some money on the road, we will be able to extend our adventure.

Having this guideline was a huge relief for me. It was as if a weight lifted from my shoulders. It wasn’t going to happen overnight, it would take time to get there, but we could manage it. We used this information to set some goals in our calendar: debt free by the end of 2014 (achieved!) and on the road on May 1st, 2016. It was a plan. It was still challenging, but it was achievable.

As you know, life happens while you make plans – sometimes for the better. I was laid off last autumn, so we moved our departure date up a year, to May 1st, 2015, which is coming up fast! It’s time to start turning this plan into action!

What do you think? Did we miss something in our estimate? Let us know in the comments.

How we budgeted for a full year of travel

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Andrew
Andrew is our resident tech-geek and is normally found lurking behind the scenes on CheeseWeb.eu doing things with code that Alison finds mysterious. He comes out of hiding occasionally to write about history and technology. He is also part of the duo that produces Tech Brew, a podcast about beer and technology in Belgium. He loves castles, driving on narrow, twisty mountain roads and relaxing with a glass of peaty Scotch. Follow Andrew on Google+
Andrew
I just created a video "St. Mary's First Nation Powwow - June 18, 2016" with #videolicious https://t.co/NnpUjJKOkm - 3 months ago
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8 comments

  1. Comment by paola

    paola February 6, 2015 at 09:24

    I know nothing of motorhomes, so take this with a pinch of salt… I suspect you underestimated parking and overnights: as far as I know almost nowhere in (western) Europe are you allowed to stop overnight “in the wild” and for free…

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison February 6, 2015 at 12:22

      Actually there are quite a few schemes (in France, Italy, Spain, etc) that allow you to park on private farms for free and there are also areas set aside in many municipalities for motorhomers to park free or cheaply, the best example being the French Aires system. Or course this is all just based on the reading we’ve done and we’ve yet to see how well it works in practice, but our budget was taken directly from other people who have done it. We’ll see!

  2. Comment by Ola

    Ola February 8, 2015 at 17:08

    Great post! Really looking forward to seeing how it works in practice. Some of the categories seem rather underestimated, especially food (that comes to approx. €15 per day for 2 which doesn’t seem feasible in Western Europe) and clothing at €50 ( I get it that you are planning on not shopping, but there will be items that you will
    simply need to get when the previous one wears out, and then you are looking at €100 for a pair of shoes etc.).
    Few categories appear missing: medical expenses, costs of new books/downloads etc.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison February 9, 2015 at 09:17

      Hi Ola, You could be completely right that we’ve under (but also over) estimated some costs. It is simply that, an estimate, based on others who have done similar travels. We’ll only know for sure what makes sense for us when we’re on the road.

      As we’ll be cooking most of our own meals, I think the food budget should be pretty close and there definitely won’t be any 100 euro shoe purchases in our future 🙂 We’re also going to look at the possibility of getting sponsors for some of the larger ticket items but again, it’s all theoretical until we get on the road.

      I think Andrew’s biggest point with this post is most people assume you need to be rich to travel full time, because they’ve never stopped to even guestimate costs… when you start getting numbers down on paper you realize that it can be (much!) more affordable than renting a flat in Brussels.

  3. Comment by Kanchan

    Kanchan February 9, 2015 at 20:31

    Wow, this is awesome and so good of you to share so openly. However it’s a sad feeling because that means I wont run into you at random events in Brussels-town in a few months’ time Alison 🙁

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison February 10, 2015 at 11:30

      Aw, we will definitely miss all the great people in Brussels, like you Kanchan! We will definitely be back and we’re thinking of ways we can host some ‘live’ events on the interwebs with you all.

  4. Comment by Jason

    Jason February 26, 2015 at 20:50

    Hi guys! You’ll have a fabulous time with that amount of cash! It’s very, very possible as you’ve seen from the numbers we’ve published. We actually felt pretty opulent, having started the first few months on a much lower daily rate, so there is flexibility in even those numbers. As for staying places for free, it depends on the country (coastal Croatia is tough going, just about everywhre else is cool) but in general there are thousands upon thousands of places for free or low cost. Kick back, hit the road, be flexible when stuff is wrong, talk to people, ignore the naysayer and have a great time. We hope to be joining you soon. Cheers, Jay

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison

      Alison February 27, 2015 at 09:15

      Thanks for the support Jay! Your and Julie’s travels were such a big source of inspiration for us and really showed us what was possible. We can’t thank you enough for that! We’d love to meet up with you guys on the road, when you’re back to it, and treat you to dinner as a small thanks for the great resource your website has been. Cheers!

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