VANLIFE: HOW WE FINANCED OUR YEAR-LONG ADVENTURE
We were under no illusions that we were incredibly fortunate to be able to spend an entire year travelling the world. Something we heard over and over again was ‘you’re so lucky’, and we 100% agree, but we also planned and prepared and made a few sacrifices along the way in order to make our dream a reality.
We’ve had a lot of questions about how we financed our adventure, so thought we’d put together a blog post outlining how we did it, and you can too!
Obviously making the decision to spend any length of time travelling requires you to save money and plan your trip, but when you’re intending to go for a year or more you need a much stronger commitment, for a much longer period of time. For us, this meant several years of being on a pretty strict budget. It’s hard to save for something that you’re going to have to wait a few years for, especially when you don’t have the plane tickets or a solid plan yet - it can seem so abstract. It can also be hard to commit to saving when it means saying no to things like shorter holidays, weekends away, or (for me) new shoes, clothes and skin care regimes every season. We found it important, though, to keep our eyes on the prize. Whenever faced with a possibly indulgent expenditure we would consider it in terms of ‘how many French dinners could we buy instead?’ or ‘how many nights accommodation could this pay for instead?’ - this kept us focused on our dream and it paid off (pun intended!).
This is a no brainer. My Great Aunt, an intrepid traveller, used to say ‘the best things in life are free...but you’ve got to have money to get to them’ - we had quite a few ‘best things’ to get to, so would be needing quite a bit of money! As we said, for a few years we were on pretty strict budget. We worked out how much we needed to spend a week on life’s essentials, and arranged for the rest (ie. most of our paycheck) to be automatically transferred each fortnight, so the money wasn’t even accessible. We transferred our savings into a mortgage offset account so that it was also working for us by reducing the interest we had to pay on our home loan.
We Compared Travel Insurance
Do your research on travel insurance - we used comparethemarket.com.au to find the best deal, and then did a separate search for discount codes for the company we chose. We ended up saving a huge amount on 12 months of comprehensive travel insurance.
We Embraced Cheap Flights
We signed up for alerts on skyscanner.com to keep an eye on flights we were interested in and got great deals throughout the year to places like Morocco, London, Dublin and Hawaii. Cheap airlines aren’t the most comfortable way to travel - you have strict luggage limits, pay extra for food, and are usually assigned a seat several rows away from your travelling companion. If you’re prepared to overlook this part of the adventure, the money you save can be put towards more exciting things when you reach your destination.
We Got a Campervan
In our opinion, campervanning is the best way to travel around Europe - and it generally turns out to also be the cheapest. Most campsites charge around €20 a night, and are clean and comfortable, but if you’re a bit more adventurous like us, you’ll find it’s easy to free camp. There are plenty of beautiful locations where you can pull up in your camper and spend a few nights, and in more camper-friendly countries like France and Germany you’ll find powered sites for as little as €2 for 4 hours of electricity. This is insanely cheap when you consider the cost of European hotels, and it’s an added bonus that you don’t have to pack up and check in or out every few days!
We Bought, Didn’t Rent, a Campervan
Going on from the previous tip, we would recommend buying, rather than renting, a campervan, particularly if you are going for a decent length on time. As we were Australian, we couldn’t buy and register a campervan to ourselves in Europe, and we didn’t have any friends over there with permanent residential addresses. We ended up finding a US expat named Donna living in the Netherlands who ran a small service called Turner Cars & Campers. She sold campervans to travellers like us and held the registration for a small fee. When we were finished with the camper, we could either sell it back to her for up to 70% of the purchase price, or sell it on our own to someone in the Netherlands and arrange for her to transfer the registration. You can read about our experience here.
Buying a camper this way was super easy. Renting a campervan is expensive and can be stressful, as every little mark or ding will be expensive to rectify, and you can’t make modifications for comfort. By buying a camper, we were able to make it our own by adding things like an inverter and wall hooks and replacing shelves and curtains. It also turned out to be super easy to sell on - much easier than we anticipated. We bought Frankie for €8,000 and sold her to another couple for €7,800, so minus the cost of fuel and a few campsites, we only paid a few hundred euros for a year’s accommodation in Europe!
We Knew Our Apps
We couldn’t have found as many amazing free and cheap camping spots as we did without the apps Camper Contact and Park4Night. If you’ve taken our advice and decided to go campervanning, these apps will be your best friends. Camper Contact lets you know what official campsites and service areas are in your general vicinity, while Park4Night also gives you a plethora of wild camping spots and farm stays. It’s also great for finding a cheap (and safe) place to park if you’re visiting a town for the day.
We Chose Substance Over Style
When purchasing a campervan, it’s important to choose substance over style. We spent a loooonnnng time perusing campervans online before making our purchase and were always drawn to those pretty ‘hipster’ campers that would give us those vanlife vibes. In the end, though, we knew we had to pick the one that wasn’t necessarily the prettiest van, but was definitely the most functional (and you can read about what we consider to be the ‘must haves’ when looking for a van here). Frankie may not have been instagram-worthy, but she didn’t break down once, and we never had to spend the thousands of dollars we’d put aside in anticipation of repairs and engine failures (we’d heard horror stories from fellow vanlifers).
Jamal Learnt to be ‘Handy’
Ok, so one of the reasons we never had to spend the money we had set aside for van repairs was because Jamal is a bit of a DIY expert. We saved hundreds of euros because Jamal was able to fix most of the small things that went wrong with the van, such as busted water pumps, failing solar panels, short circuiting, and steering wheel wobbles. Early on in the trip we discovered our horn wasn’t working, and we took it to a mechanic who said it would cost a few hundred euros to replace. Instead, we pulled up in a hardware store car park, Jamal pulled out his good friend YouTube, and fixed the horn in a few short hours.
We Decided on a Route
When we set off we had no fixed plans as to where we wanted to be when, however we had decided on a rough ‘loop’ we would travel and identified some key places we wanted to visit. This made economic sense, because we avoided backtracking and therefore unnecessary expenditure of time/fuel.
This is a popular and fun way to save money when travelling. We were fortunate enough to have a great little stove-top and fridge in the van, but if you’re not campervanning we’d recommend Air BnBs with kitchens. Part of the fun of travelling is enjoying the local cuisine, and there’s no better or cheaper way of doing this other than buying and preparing your own goodies!
We Prioritised the Tourist Sites we Wanted to Visit
When you’re travelling for a few weeks, paying for tours here and there is easily justified, as is a few euros every time you want to enter a historic building, climb a tower, or see a church. When you’re on the road for a year, however, all these expenses can quickly add up and it’s easy to find yourself haemorrhaging money. Early on we learned to prioritise tourist sites - asking ourselves did we really want to see/visit this attraction, or did we just think we should, because apparently it was the ‘thing to do’? Was this site unique to the place we were visiting, or had we seen/would we see similar elsewhere? We learned early on that travelling for us wasn’t about seeing everything in the guidebook, it was about being and thereby experiencing the essence of the place in which we found ourselves.
Where is your next adventure taking you?!