Traveling light

Two weeks ago I came across an article that was making its rounds on Facebook. In it the author addressed the question people often ask her, How do you afford to travel? It’s a question we’ve also been asked from time to time, especially given the modest salaries that accompany our careers as an educator and journalist. For us, and the others who were so kind to offer their own perspectives on this topic, saying “yes” to travel has meant saying “no” to other things. It has meant getting creative and thinking outside the box. And it has meant adjusting expectations.

How We Afford to Travel

We’ve also come to realize that in different seasons of life, there will be different degrees of travel. When Jarrett and I first got married, we were fresh out of college living on one entry-level salary while my cobbled together freelance earnings covered a school loan and worked to build our savings. Thus, there just wasn’t much money available to travel, and our camping trips were infrequent and short. But over the years Jarrett and I employed a few different strategies to make travel and camping a priority in our budget, and as a result we’ve been able to camp and travel much more in recent years:

  • We set up automatic withdrawals: We find that an auto withdrawal of money each month is a great way to slowly but consistently build up a travel and camping fund. The money is put into a separate account so we don’t touch it.
  • I sell items we no longer need or want and bank the money for our travel goals: I have earned several hundred dollars from selling items on our local Facebook garage sale pages. Aside from a few bigger ticket items, most of the items I have sold have been in the $10-$25 range, but each sale adds up over time. (Plus it’s a great way to declutter my house!)
  • On our trips we pick touring sites that have low or no entrance fees: Entrance fees add up fast for a growing family of five, so we try to balance expensive stops with ones that are free or nearly free.
  • We try to stay at state parks: We have found that state park (or other government) campgrounds have lower rates than private campgrounds. You will usually have fewer amenities at state parks, but at private campgrounds you are paying for all the extras, like swimming pools, arcades, full-hookups, etc.
  • We bought a used camper: Given the depreciation amount the minute you drive a new camper off the lot, buying used saved us several thousand dollars. We also sold our previous pop-ups ourselves, rather than trading them in, which netted us a larger profit on the sale.

Big Horn Mountains

Since every family is different, though, we thought it would be fun to get other perspectives on this topic. So we reached out to some of our blogging friends and they graciously agreed to share how their families afford to travel and camp.

Kerri (who blogs over at Travels With Birdy) said her family found that modifying their expectations has played an important part in meeting their travel goals:

When we first talked about buying a trailer, we said, “We can’t afford it.” Then, as we talked about how our boys are growing up and how our years with them at home are ticking away, I finally said, “We can’t afford not to do this.” So, we found a small, cheap used travel trailer that would work with the vehicle we own. We don’t have slides or a power awning, and we have to sleep on a fold-down dinette, but this was the trailer we could afford. I believe an RV can be found in almost every budget if you can adjust your expectations. We pay $100 a month, and the joy RVing has brought to our life is invaluable, as sappy as that sounds.

Additionally, Kerri says they have found a unique way to make sure they put aside enough money for their travels:
To pay for our grand summer adventures, we let the federal government have an interest-free loan from us. We have extra money withheld with our taxes from our paychecks so we get a bigger tax return. This might not be the best method, but it keeps us from having access to the money. Once the rebate comes, I put it in an account at a separate bank to keep us from using it. As you can tell, we are terrible savers, but this method really forces us to keep the money aside, and we don’t miss it since we never see it.
Berlin RV Park, Millersburg OH
Mark (who blogs at RV Circus) also reaffirmed that being creative is a big part of how his family of six was able to buy a camper on a single income:
We shopped for years and kept putting off the purchase of an RV because of cost. We weren’t prepared to go into debt or assume a monthly payment, so in the end we decided to restore an older travel trailer with extensive water damage. We now have a travel trailer that’s a great fit for our family and have less than $5,000 invested into it. We can now travel to our hearts’ content as a family for the cost of fuel and campground fees.
Mark says they have found other ways to trim camping costs, starting with the kind of campground they pick:
Do you need full hookups in a full amenity campground or would you be happy with a site in a state park with only electric for $17 per night? We need to compromise at times and if it means we can squeeze in an extra trip or two each year we’ll use our fresh water tank and a dump station instead of paying extra for the full hookups. Last, but not least, is food. Plan your meals in advance. We come up with a menu and pack everything we need before we leave the house. We know if/when we’ll be eating out and what we’ll be packing for those bag lunches on the road. We typically spend no more on food when traveling than we do at home.
Mt Rushmore camper parking
Gretchen (who blogs at Boxy Colonial and Boxy Colonial on the Road) says her family doesn’t splurge on much–they drive older cars, rarely eat out, and buy used whenever possible–but scrimping in those areas allows them to spend on the one “extra” that they think is definitely worthwhile: travel.

The more we looked at the kind of travel we were hoping to do (like long summer road trips to take advantage of my husband’s teaching schedule), the more buying an RV made sense as a way to make travel more affordable. When we did the math and thought about the money we could save on hotel rooms (especially expensive for big families like ours, since we need two rooms or a suite to fit us all) and by bringing our own kitchen along with us, we figured the trailer would pay for itself pretty quickly.


When we budget for travel, we try to think of it as a monthly expensive instead of a big chunk of cash that we have to come up with all at once. I have a small income from blogging and freelance writing, and that’s our official travel fund and comes from a separate account. RV travel makes it easy to spread expenses out throughout the year: maintenance, insurance, loan payments (if you have them) are all naturally spread out. And campgrounds often require a bigger deposit than hotels; this annoyed us a little when we first started booking … until we decided to look at this, too, as a way to force us to budget and spread expenses out over time.

Plum Creek Park, Walnut Grove, MN

And I just love what Amanda (a Pennsylvania camper I’ve had the privilege of meeting through blogging) did to make her family’s camping and travel goals a reality:

After planning many camping trips during the summer, my husband and I decided to sell on eBay to raise money for our adventures. We started selling clothes that our kids had outgrown. We made several hundred dollars and decided to shop local second hand stores and yard sales for great finds to resell on eBay. We also enlisted help of our family to give us clothes they no longer wanted. I have been selling for two years now and have been able to fully fund our camping trips through the entire season (we camp between 30-40 nights a year). We pay taxes each year, but it still has been an excellent opportunity to have vacation without stressing about the budget.

Thanks so much to Kerri, Mark, Gretchen, and Amanda for sharing about how their families afford to travel and camp. What about you? Does your family have a creative way to work travel and camping into your budget? If so, please leave a comment below!

6 thoughts on “Traveling light

  1. Gretchen

    Great post–thanks so much for including me! I love what Kerri says about not being able to afford NOT to travel now, while the kids are still at home. We had to buy the trailer and a van to tow it at the same time, since we didn’t have any car appropriate for towing; we paid cash for the van, but have a payment on the trailer….I felt kind of weird about this at first, since we try really hard not to take on debt (we don’t have any other than our mortgage and now the RV)….but then it felt silly to sit around and wait while we saved and the kids got older, when we could actually be USING a trailer all that time for such a small monthly payment. I justified it by reasoning that our monthly payment on the RV is equivalent to a single night in a hotel. We do hope/plan to pay it off over the next couple of years, but in the meantime it still makes sense to me financially.

  2. David Forgue

    Touring Camper, Great article. If I could add one more way to RV more, it is by Sharing (renting) your RV when you are not using it. I know it’s not for everyone but it can provide a great side income.

    Also, it allows others who are not ready to buy the opportunity to start RVing. I’ve been renting mine for a while and have met some great people from all over the country. I offer to deliver and set it up for them too.

  3. Carrie Johnson

    LOVE this post! We spend a lot of time on road trips and camping for the same reasons you mentioned above.

    Ways we save, buy clothes from thrift of discount stores, purchase camping gear (including freeze dried meals) on sale, purchase last year’s gear for an extra discount, and only plan trips if we have the cash available.

    Thanks for even more ideas on ways to save/plan for more trips!

    1. Kristin Post author

      Hi Carrie–thanks so much for stopping by and reading! And thanks for sharing more great tips! Happy camping! 🙂

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