Q&A: How do you afford to live on the road full-time? OR How do you make (earn) money on the road?

This is another very common question.

Before I answer this question I want to bring up an important point.   A lot of people forget that earning money is only half of the equation. The more important part of the equation, in my opinion, is how much money you spend. If you don’t spend a lot of money you can last a long time on the road and living this lifestyle for as long as possible is the ultimate goal…right?  If you want to ‘afford’ vanlife I recommend you don’t spend a lot of money.  That being said, I will answer this question in two parts: How I SPEND money and how I EARN money.

Part 1. How I SPEND money:

I live extremely frugally. I don’t spend a lot of money.  My main expenses are gas, insurance, food and miscellaneous permits or fees.  My monthly budget depends on how much I’m moving (gas), how active I am (food/permits) and other factors.  I would say that my budget averages around $1000 per month but can fluctuate drastically.

Saving money has become an art for me.  For the most part I shop at thrift stores, farmers markets and low cost grocery stores.  I rarely eat out. I rarely pay for campsites or hotels. I stay on public lands, forests or areas for free.    I shower at the gym and my membership (Planet Fitness) for a national membership is $10 per month. I have friends all over the West Coast so I will use the couchsurfing app or stay with friends if I need a break from the van (which I never do). I don’t have Netflix or Spotify or other streaming services.  I have Audible, but try to use Overdrive whenever possible. I obviously don’t pay rent. I try to save money wherever possible and could even cut costs by not paying fees for backcountry or river permits, but I believe in contributing to the upkeep of public lands. I’ve tried to keep my expenses as low as possible, but dirtbags (see below) are the true artists at living on a shoestring…

A “dirtbag” is a person who is committed to a given (usually extreme) lifestyle to the point of abandoning employment and other societal norms in order to pursue said lifestyle.  I know many dirtbags who will drive into parks before the fee stations open to avoid entrance fees, they will never pay for permits, they will go to a gas station with a two gallon jug and beg for gas and food so they literally don’t have any expenses.  I’ve met some dirtbags who even dumpster dive for food. They live on less than $1,000 per year. I admire them and their art form. They are truly living outside of societies grasp in an effort to do what they love. Most people would call them crazy, but in my opinion, the dirtbags are the ones who truly have it right in this world.

Part 2. How I EARN money:

If you’ve read my other blog posts you know that I have been financially successful after working hard for the majority of my youth.  I was not born into wealth and would consider my upbringing working middle-class. My journey may be different than some other younger readers/followers.  It’s important not to compare where someone is in their life to where you are in yours. What is important is to absorb or take away the overall philosophies that you think will be beneficial in your journey.  If you understand the overall philosophy of spending less than you earn and investing the remainder then this post will be a success. Too many Americans spend more than they earn and end up in debt mostly because of elaborate marketing schemes meant to separate them from their money. I’m always happy to recommend books, podcasts or articles to help you on your journey.

  1. SELL: I sold everything I owned including my business.  I sold my condo, furniture, car, watches, misc. stuff and clothes.  I donated everything else I couldn’t sell or use on my travels. That was my way of downsizing and funding the van build.  Selling everything also gave me a comfortable amount of savings and some additional money to invest further into real estate.
  2. INVEST: I’ve made some good real estate related investments that provide me a decent steady stream of income.  I won’t go into exactly what investments I have as it’s not useful to focus on what other people have. It’s important to know that spending your money at an early age on investments is the key to financial freedom.  Everything in society is aimed at separating you from your money as quickly as possible. The system is designed to keep you in the hampster (consumer) wheel. It’s up to you to be disciplined enough to invest and not spend.
  3. WORK: I go home for three to four months a year (Thanksgiving to April) to visit friends and family and work seasonally to make some money.  I park in friends and family driveways because it’s a great opportunity to spend time connecting with my loved ones and also make some money.  Since I don’t spend a lot of money on the road, this money usually is about enough to cover my normal expenses on the road for the remaining eight months.

If you have any more questions related to this post don’t hesitate to reach out.

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