New Leaves

Homestead, FL

The Simple Life

Feb 21, 2013 by Bonnie

Budget travel requires rethinking the way you think about possessions, the necessities of life, and how you spend your time.

Here’s a photo of our van, driving down Daytona Beach on a beautiful day in February. How did we get here on a social security budget? Well, you may say, that van didn’t come cheap, and you sure used a lot of gas to get there. Yes, that is true, but I am still saying that, in the larger picture, budget travel is possible. We are now in the Miami area, two weeks into our retirement, and so far we have averaged $40 a day or less in expenses. Here are some principles we have used.

1) Simplify your life. If you want to travel when you retire, figure out how to lower your expenses as much as possible. This begins by deciding what is really necessary in your life, and what you can part with. It may entail downsizing your home, either to have a smaller home and no debt, or to have less tax, insurance, and utility expense. If you really want to live on the road for a while, you may even decide to rent out your home, putting your furnishings in storage. Or you may sell your home, and store the things you can’t bear to part with. This can be difficult; we lived in the same home for 34 years, and even though we regularly went through the house and discarded or gave away many things, it was still very hard to make these decisions. We have done only the first round of downsizing, but it feels good to at least be starting the process.

2) Decide what you can afford. We have decided that, having lowered our other expenses, we can afford to spend $50 a day while on the road. This comes to around $18,000 a year, which is less than our social security income. The remainder of our income will go to other expenses that can’t be avoided. I will admit that this is a trial year, and we don’t yet know how our budget will work out in the long term, but it’s working at present.

3) Have a plan and set goals toward working that plan. We decided about a year ago that we would like to be able to visit our far-flung family without imposing on them and putting them out of their bedrooms when we visited. After a lot of research, we decided that a cargo van with a built-in bed would be the best and most economical way to accomplish that. A big help in that decision came when I happened upon a site called, hosted by Jason Odom, who also wrote a book about the Vanabode lifestyle. His site is well worth visiting, if you are at all interested in economical travel solutions. He has tried many different travel methods and has decided that the cargo van is the best solution for many people.

Yes, the van was a big expense, but we bought it used, and didn’t pay much more than we would have for a car. In fact it cost less than our Camry. Yes, the gas mileage is not as good as with a car, but we do get an average of around 17 mpg city/highway combined, which is a lot better than most RVs. And the initial van price was a tiny fraction of what even a small RV conversion van would have cost.

We took the van out for a trial run several months before we actually retired, and enjoyed the time very much. We have been campers for many years, and know how few of the things we own are truly necessary for life. But we were surprised when, having been on the road for only a few days, we walked into a Walmart, looked around the huge store, and realized that probably 90% of the things in that store were unnecessary to life, and would even be obstacles to the life we were trying to live. It was a moment I will never forget.

NEXT TIME: How Does It Work?