Guest Post: How To Afford Full-Time Travel with The Flory Story
We are the Flory Family sharing our story of adventure, travel, having 6 kids and sharing our struggles too. Three years ago, our Dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease which sent our family in a tailspin. We decided to take advantage of his current health and take a grand adventure across America in an RV. We just finished 46 states with 4 more to go. Traveling has been such a blessing to us and we have no plans to stop, although now we take things slower and are planning our international excursions.
The Sell-It-All Scenario and Its Pitfalls
A lot of people are having travel come up on their life-radar. They see pictures scroll by on their feeds and hear stories of families not waiting for their retirement years to see the world, or travel in an RV, or take that dream vacation. Instead of "someday," more and more people are finding it possible to not only take more vacations but to actually live life as a full time traveling family. Why?
Because travel is awesome! Seeing new places, meeting new people, trying new foods and constantly learning and growing is a great way to live. But it comes with a price, in monetary value and also in sacrifices necessary to make this unconventional lifestyle happen.
In our case, we have 6 kids and always knew that travel would be a focus of our discretionary money. When we got an extra big tax return... it would be spent on that summer's vacation. When a bonus came in, we'd pick a place we'd like to visit. Most people we know were the same. They'd save up for vacation and go once every year or two (but rarely with all their kids).
Then we heard about RV'ing, where a family of all sizes could squeeze into 30-44 square feet with all the stuff they own and drive their home around the country to explore. On YouTube we saw the vlogs of people who were making it happen. After they toured our own country, they'd start seeing other countries. We started to think... maybe we could do that too.
We've recently returned from our year RVing America as a full time traveling family of 8. We road-schooled, we saw countless national parks, we toured museums, and saw city after city along our route. We are now organizing our international escapades which require a different set of plans including plane flights, house rentals, and transportation. Multiply all that times eight people and the price can be steep. Can a family with a lot of kids in the middle of their working years really make that happen?
The answer is YES, because we've met them and swapped stories of how they made it happen. It's tough but possible and entirely worth it. Here are five tips and "real-talk" reminders we thought we'd share to help you consider if full time travel is an option for your family.
1. Sell Your Stuff
There was one thing everyone traveling family had in common. An important first step that is one of those necessary sacrifices. Sell your stuff first. Stuff meaning your toys, extra furniture, and anything that you didn't really need to live with because whatever is left would have to be stored. A full time traveler doesn't have the luxury a vacation has of going out but then coming home. It's usually necessary to sell (or at least rent out) your home to help offset the costs of travel.
We kept a big money jar so that when something was sold, the kids could add to the money jar and they knew it would be used on our trip. After selling everything we owned worth selling, the jar had just over $3000. I recall thinking that all the hard-earned things we'd collected over the years wasn't worth very much. I expected that it would bring in more money.
We also donated a lot of things and had a specific plan for that. We wanted to help people on four levels: locally in our city, a state-wide organization, a national charity, and an international donation. As a family, we spent four months going through our old boxes and finding donation-worthy clothes, toys, books, school supplies, dishes, and furniture that could help someone else's life easier.
This phase of our pre-journey was a great learning experience for the whole family. I recall that phase of minimizing to be a stressful but exciting time, looking forward to the journey but really feeling the sacrifices. Since then, the minimalist lifestyle has been completely freeing and life-changing for the entire family. My children can distinguish between wants and needs really well now and we all acknowledge that one doesn't need much to live on. Everything they own to wear or read or play with has to fit in a backpack and one bag.
2. Have a Plan for Income.
The sell-it-all scenario is only the catalyst to get the journey started, both mentally and in reality. Once you are on the road, you realize something very important. It costs money to travel. Suddenly you are spending money on things that weren't previously allotted in your budget. For an RVer, that means much more gas money, more frequent grocery shopping for those small fridges, and money for excursions like museums and places you are seeing. You are saving money that used to be spent on sports teams and music lessons too so that helps but you can expect your budget to be turned upside down during the transition.
One thing to help ease that transition is having an income coming in while you are on the road and not just living off saved money. Doug and I both work remotely so we just kept doing our normal jobs with a different view out of our window each day. He is a change management consultant and I teach education classes online. A challenge was adding the schooling and presence of six kids to our work day. We learned to be flexible with our work hours and really communicate our needs for meetings, and business trips. A lot of travelers think that they'll supplement their funds with passive income from blogging, you tube or social media sponsors but that's a slower process and a full time type job on it's own so for us, it's a side hobby and not the primary means of income. At this point, we've traveled a year and have made NO money from any of our social media platforms. We are too small of a channel. Most travelers start to see money after about 3 years of vlogging, after they have 10K followers on YouTube, or from their page-views on a blog. There are exceptions, of course. You can pay your own money to promote your posts and do giveaways or even buy followers, but our growth has been more organic. Most people we know expect faster results from their amazing stories they share however, seeing money from social media endeavors is much slower than anticipated.
3.The Money Runs Out.
This is a reality that no one like to talk about. Remember when you sold everything you own and thought the money would last for years of traveling joy? Well switch that to months and you've got it right. The money eventually runs out and that cruel day can be scary. That's when budget traveling becomes important. Having a savings cushion as a traveler is extremely comforting for days when the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, or you need a last minute place to stay, or the kids are starving and you have to eat out more than you expected. Some of those travel decisions require some fast access to money. But what about when the saving nest-egg is gone?
For us, that meant less excursions and less eating out in the different cities. More couponing for local must-see places and seeking out free activities. Travel planning is now really important because if an expensive city is coming up on your route, you need to think ahead for that and put money aside in the budget. We've stayed outside of expensive cities and taken public transportation in to explore. We've also extended our stay in rentals (when our RV broke) because it's cheaper to stay longer than just a night or two.
Just know that travel decisions become more particular and thrifty, but that it's still possible to travel comfortably with some creative planning. Beware of travel fatigue though because all that mental energy to make those final dollars stretch is mentally and emotionally draining. That's when you know it's time to pause the adventure and recharge in a stationary location for a while.
4. Rebuilding Your Belongings
Another not-so-talked about reality is that when your journey is over or paused, it can be a challenge to find your new "home." It is usually necessary when you have older kids to get those essentials done like doctor and dentist appointments, drivers licenses, braces tightened, and other boring chores like that. Many travelers end up staying with a family member to recharge, or rent/buy a house for a short sabbatical. In our case, we are renting a house for our oldest to graduate high school.
There was one major problem we realized when we moved in... we had sold all of our stuff before! The thrifty decision-making continued as we outfitted our new rental with tables, laundry machines, couches, lamps, and so on. We ate off boxes for weeks and slept on the floor until beds were purchased. For us, it cost about $6000 to restock what we had sold to be comfortable and that was just for the basics. We still continue to live minimally in a house because we know how little we need to be happy. Buying new stuff though did feel like a stretch to our drying up savings. Again, the sacrifices of traveling are felt from time to time and we were surprised that we felt those sacrifices once the journey stopped.
5. Planning Your Next Adventure
We are currently saving up again for our next family adventure. RVing America was amazing but quite different than full time traveling on an international level. The wanderlust one feels when you are stationary is strong. We are always thinking of the next place we'd like to go and trying to navigate the challenges of time constraints, money needed, and travel decisions to make it happen. We've learned from other traveling big families that the biggest expenses are the plane tickets and the lodging rentals. We've been learning more about hostels, flight deals, and which countries are better to drive through.
We don't plan on "selling it all" again. I wonder if that's a one time thing for most traveling families. This time due to the age of our kids, we need to travel on a more part time level with perhaps one more big traveling gap year coming up. It requires building up our savings again, keeping an eye on the times of year that are best in certain geographic locations, and then being brave enough to follow through on the travel plan. That leap into full time traveling is an exciting one. One thing is for sure, the sacrifices are worth it and it IS possible.