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Gulf Shores, Alabama on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean

Gulf Shores, AL

2013- in Review—The Budget

Dec 17, 2013 by Bonnie

2013 is history, and we have now been retired one year. We have been very blessed to travel not only in Florida, but “around the edges” of the US, from Michigan across to Seattle, WA and Vancouver, BC, down the coast of California to Los Angeles, and across the south on to the panhandle of Florida, before heading back to our base in Georgia.

We were “home” (with our daughter Brenda’s family in Georgia) for the holidays, so in figuring our travel expense, we included only the ten months from February through November. Of the 42 weeks we were on the road, we spent 25 with family and 17 touring. Sixteen weeks of the 25 were at Brenda’s, working on the cottage for my mom. However, most of the other family time included some sight-seeing, and, with the exception of just a few days, we slept in our van wherever we were. So it’s not easy to neatly separate our weeks into visiting/traveling. Our expenses were relatively constant, whether visiting others or not. We actually spent more when visiting family and friends than when we were on the road, because we helped with groceries, meals out, gas, etc. So the per diem figure includes all ten months’ expenses divided by the total number of days.

Our budget goal was to travel on $40-$50 a day. And we made it! We traveled over 16,000 miles and averaged between 15-16 mpg in the van. The breakdown (daily average) goes like this:

Gas and car expense: $17
Food/Sundries/Restaurants 18
Travel (tolls, etc) 2
Camping 1
Attractions, other 3


The Food category also includes toiletries, vitamins, and other Wal-Mart-type items, as well as ice for the cooler. We also helped our hosts with food. We spent only 28¢ of every food dollar on restaurants (mostly $4 McDonald breakfasts when the weather was not good for cooking outdoors). That’s a smaller ratio than what is spent by the average American who is not traveling. I’ve heard that the average American family spends half of its food dollars on fast food and restaurants. We found that we were able to eat better quality food by buying organic when possible, so that was our splurge, rather than restaurants.

Surprised at the camping total? We spent less than 30 days in campgrounds. The rest of the time we were either parked on the street in a neighborhood (seldom directly in front of a house), at a Walmart or other store, or in a church parking lot. Once we even camped at a fairground! And when we did go to a campground, we never spent more than $10 a night. The reason for this is that we only camped in national park or national forest campgrounds, used only non-electric sites, and used our federal Senior Pass to camp for half price. If you are 62 or over, the one-time $10 investment is paid back many times over, because not only does it give you half-price camping, you also get free admission to all national parks and historic sites. The only expense we had in any national park was an $11 parking fee for the privately-owned lot at Mt. Rushmore.

These figures do not include medical bills, telephone, gifts, or any of our regular housing expenses (which are currently being covered by the renters). We did not meet the goal of having our total expenses covered by our Social Security income, but with the rent covering our taxes, insurance and utilities for the house, we did have enough income to break even overall. So we are pleased.

Would you like to do as we have done? It is possible, with proper planning, and a willingness to live as we do. It’s all in perspective, and in what is important to you. For example, we have given up the luxury of a daily shower, but to put it in perspective, we have had showers more often than the folks who live on the space station get to have. True, we have put a lot of miles on the van, but we paid much less for it than we would have paid for a regular camper, and it is more versatile. Not having cooking facilities gave us more room for clothes and other items we needed for a year’s outing. Even so, we took along a lot of things we never used. This year our bins are not as tightly packed!

We are very pleased (and blessed) by our year of discovery!

Van Trek 2014 began on January 15. If you’re still interested, hang around and see how it goes! We’re not sure how long we’ll be doing this, but that’s part of the adventure!