First year’s finances

First a warning to friends and family, who constitute the majority of our readers. You might want to stop now, there won’t be any pretty pictures of birds or cute pictures of Quinn. This is just a breakdown of how much money we spent on what during the past year of our travels.

People planning trips such as this are always trying to get a handle on how much it costs, and I thought another data point might be helpful.

So, for those of you who may be new to our site, a little about us – we are a family of three traveling in a Ford camper van. We’ve been on the road for just over a year. We had a budget in mind when we started, but we weren’t strict in keeping to it. We bought plenty of expensive boxed wine in Canada (yes, even the boxed kind is expensive). And when the opportunity to do something cool presented itself, like taking a scenic flight over Mt Denali, we usually said yes, figuring we may never be back.

The numbers here include pretty much everything we spent over the past year, with the exception of home expenses like our storage locker. We bought travel medical insurance for $2400 and Jen and Quinn had to fly to Philadelphia twice due to an illness in the family. For those types of expenses I put “None” as the country so as not to skew the numbers for the country where we happened to be at the time.

Yes, I know Alaska is not a country. I just thought it might be interesting to separate it from the rest of the US, especially since everything is quite a bit more expensive there.

Here are our expenses by country:


And by category:


We spent about $8,500 for van maintenance and repair. This is way more than most people spend on a trip like this, but everyone should budget something.

Alaska’s daily budget is very high, in part because we paid for both legs of the ferry back to Vancouver Island while there.

A lot of the Transportation category is the two flights back home and the flights, bus, and boat tickets involved in getting from Oaxaca to Belize while the van was in the shop.

The medical category was pretty much entirely reimbursed by our insurance.

If you factor out the van expenses and the trips home, our expenses come out to about $126 per day, which is close to what we had in mind before we left.

If anyone has any questions, please ask them in the comments and I’ll try to clear up anything I can.

6 Responses to 'First year’s finances'

  1. Trish Cozart says:

    This is great information, Witt. How much would you estimate it would be for a single person traveling? Or, in contrast, how much would it be to add extra kids onto the trip?


    • Witt says:

      Good question, lets see…

      Groceries, dining, and sightseeing would probably scale with the number of people. If you’re talking about little kids it wouldn’t be as much as with older kids, since teenagers eat more (as you’re probably well aware) and little kids often get a discount on sightseeing activities.

      Dining out could get very expensive with more kids!

      Gas and lodging (assuming you’re camping) would be pretty constant, although in Mexico and points south campgrounds tend to charge by the person, so that might increase a bit.

      Transportation depends on the person; most of that for us was the ferries in Alaska and airline trips, so that’s entirely dependent on what you do. Without those big expenses, that would have been just cab fares in cities and toll roads in Mexico.

      I divided out dining, sightseeing, and groceries to get a per-person cost. Those three categories came to $21.20 per person per day, so you might be able to add or subtract that amount based on the number of people you have.

      It’s rough, but I guess it’s better than nothing!

  2. Kathy says:

    This is an amazing breakdown! And very interesting. If only I could keep such meticulous records :-). One more week in Panama? LM

    • Jennifer Sparks says:

      We use the Money HD app on my iPad to keep track of our expenses. It makes it pretty easy. We have about 1-1/2 weeks left in Panama! How is the house sale going?

  3. karie says:

    Hi guys, do you have an approximate idea how often you camped vs stayed in more expensive hostel/hotels in Mexico and Guatemala? Or how often you ate out vs cooking? I am a little surprised over the cost in those countries. I was hoping for lower….like I was hoping for $60-70 per day! The other countries you pretty much breezed through so the high per day cost is to be expected.

    • Witt says:

      I’m pretty sure I’ve seen reports of couples traveling on around $80 per day, and less is certainly doable.

      Keep in mind that there are three of us, so that increases our costs.

      During the 5 months we were in Mexico, we only spent about 10-12 nights in hotels at a cost of $60-$90 per night. This was when we went to Mexico City and when we rented a condo over Christmas.

      We ate out a fair amount in Mexico – the food was SO good. I’ll try to post some specific numbers on that.

      In Guatemala we stayed in Panajachel almost the whole time we were there – first at a campground for about 7 nights, then we rented a condo for six weeks at a cost of about $25/night. We only ate out a few times while there.

      If you’re trying to keep to a tight budget, fuel will be a significant expense. Mexico has been increasing their fuel costs to the point where diesel is now roughly $1/liter – the same as the US. We got about 15-16 MPG in Mexico, so a 200 mile day costs $50 just in fuel.