Making your dream of driving around the world definitely isn’t easy – but you’re wrong if you think it’s impossible.
A lot of people give up on the idea when they imagine how expensive and bureaucratic it must be. But you’d be pleasantly surprised to know that driving around the world is actually simpler and a whole lot more affordable than you think – especially if you live in your car.
Below we’ve written a list of our secrets on how we, a 20-something unemployed couple, manage to afford our travels around the world over three years.
Travel in a cheaper car
One of the biggest costs you’ll incur on an overland trip is when you buy your vehicle. So many spend 5 digit figures acquiring fancy off-road cars and then realise they don’t have any money left to go travelling with.
We’ve met people traveling the world in everything from a Mazda 3 to a 1920’s vintage car and everything in between. As long as the car is reliable and comfortable, you don’t need to spend any more than $10,000 on your vehicle.
We actually decided to use a van we’d bought 3 years before our trip for US $4,000. She’s super comfortable as a home and hasn’t failed us once – even when we take her on some pretty wild 4×4 tracks.
Build your set-up yourself
We spent 2 years building and preparing our car because we knew we’d be living in it for 3 years. But we’ve met overlanders travelling happily with the bare basics and realised that a set up doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive… it just needs to work for you and be relatively comfortable!
We built ours with our own hands using the tools and materials we could find (a lot of which came from verge side collections, IKEA and scrap heaps).
This photo from our Instagram shows Michaela working on the van’s interior a year before we started travelling. Overall we spent around US $3,000 on the full set up. If we’d paid someone else to build it for us this price would have easily doubled.
Save on fuel
Our van isn’t the most fuel economic car – she does about 12.5L per 100 kms or 19 miles per gallon. Any other smaller or more modern car is capable of halving that figure – which is also something to consider when buying your car, seeing as you’ll be driving way more than you’ve ever done before.
But not having a super efficient car doesn’t mean you can’t save on fuel. By driving slower and keeping your car well serviced you can save up to 40% of your total fuel consumption! We dropped our cruising speed from 90 to 80 km/h (55 to 49 mph) after a year on the road and it took a good 20% off our usual fuel bill.
Also being smart about where you buy your fuel and using apps like gassbuddy (USA) or Fuel Map (Ausatralia) can save you double figures each time you fill up. This will make the world of a difference to your budget in the long run!
Cook for yourself
Cooking in your car is one of the best ways you can save money and keep healthy. A lot of people think we survive off canned food and simple staples but we actually believe we eat better now than we ever did at home.
Here are some of the ways we save money and eat well:
- Buy long-lasting staples like rice, pasta, cous-cous and spices in bulk and store them for the long run.
- Do weekly shops for fresher items always looking for specials.
- Transform super cheap cuts of meat into juicy pulled pork or tender beef curry using a 12-volt slow cooker.
- Buy items that suit an overland lifestyle eg. long-lasting, compact tortillas instead of bread (they take up very little space and can also be used as bread, wraps or pizza bases).
- Only buy long-lasting and heat resistant fruit and vegetables to reduce waste (go for eggplants, capsicums, carrots, avocados, corn, pumpkin and apples instead of delicates like peaches or lettuce).
Sleep in your car or with friends
Without doubt accommodation is the largest travel expense for any lengthy trip. Let’s say you pay a very conservative $30 a night to stay in a motel for example – after a year of travelling you’ll have spent close to $11,000. Thats almost half of our entire expenditure on our trip to date (1 year). So if you’ve got your own vehicle you can kill two birds with one stone and sleep in it.
By sleeping in Walmart carparks, wild camping or staying with family, friends or even complete strangers we’ve been able to keep our accommodation expenses for our entire travels to $733 over a year! Without the possibility of sleeping in our van we would simply not be able to afford our travels.
Now that you’ve reduced the cost of accommodation and food by sleeping and eating in the car – your biggest cost during the trip will most likely be fuel. And the best way to save money on fuel is to simply drive less or not at all. If you’ve found a cheap or free spot to camp, then staying 1 day or an entire week will cost you almost the same thing. So why not stay a while?
Avoid the tourist traps
The tourist industry has got its grips into a lot of cool places – adding entrance fees or requiring you to hire transportation to see the most popular spots (e.g. being required to hire a tuk-tuk AND pay a separate entry fee to see Angkor Wat in Cambodia).
However, not all the amazing things to do and see on a trip cost money. We find that by talking to locals and getting an insider’s opinion on the best thing to see in the area make our experience in places a lot cheaper and usually more authentic. For example we had a blast swimming with manatees for free in Florida, hiring our own scooter to explore Vietnam and trying out a heap of snow sports in Canada.
Search for discounted or free tickets
Sometimes you just can’t miss doing the touristy thing. When you’re in Peru you can’t miss Machu Picchu, or when you’re in Florida with the family you have to check out Disney World.
By using websites like Groupon and LivingSocial, buying monthly or annual passes for National Parks and going to TimeShare presentations to get discounted tickets for theme parks and tourist attraction you’ll be able to save a lot of money!
You can also use your unique trip or talents as a way to get free tickets in return for photos, videos or reviews of the attraction/event. You’ll be surprised how many places will let you in for free or give you a discount just because you’re travelling in a unique way.
Make friends as you go
The best part of travelling is the people you meet along the way and the experiences you have with them. We’ve met so many wonderful people and made friends with complete strangers that we stay in contact with. In turn they’ve housed us, fed us and helped us out to ship or service the van. Everything is easier and more enjoyable with friends!
Friends can also put you in contact with others along your route – and a friendly face means so much after being isolated in a van for months. We take souvenirs of our trip with us to give to those who help out and enjoy cooking good meals for them in return for their help. It’s a win-win situation for everyone :)!
Sell or give away everything you don’t need
Things give our lives comfort – but they also restrict us. Thats why we decided to sell everything we didn’t need before departing on our adventure. We sold our second car, bikes and furniture on Gumtree (the Australian Craigslist) and set up a stall at a local car boot sale to get rid of smaller items.
On top of making some extra cash for your travels, you’ll feel the sense of freedom that having little gives you. And believe us, you don’t need much when you live in a car. Less is definitely best.
Get some sponsors to help out
If you’re doing an extended overland trip then you may have something unique to offer camping, 4×4 and overland-type companies. In exchange for product reviews, logos on your car and professional photo or video footage you may be able to get some quality products for free that will benefit you on your trip.
We managed to get some sponsors onboard before we started our trip that helped immensely with the set-up of our rig and kept costs down considerably. Start by writing up a sponsorship proposal explaining what you can offer each company in exchange for products and send it in an email. Then be super persistent and don’t give up contacting them until they’ve at least replied to you!
There are so many good bargains out there and when you have the time to look for them online or at op-shops (thrift stores) you can save a LOT of money.
Both our computers, all our photography equipment, our first rooftop tent, our snow clothing, our surf board and even the van were all bought used over Gumtree/Craigslist or KEH Camera and at thrift stores, saving us thousands of dollars. We bought smart, making sure everything was in good condition and working before we handed over any money, and so far we haven’t had any second-hand related issues.
Here is a great article on 4 ways you can save money on camera equipment in particular.
Making money on the road
To be able to make it the whole way around the globe in three years we need to make some extra money while we travel. We’re trying to do this in three ways:
1 – Working jobs: Michaela films weddings and Alex has worked in web design which are two things we can continue do as we travel. Luckily we also have passports that allow us to work in Europe and South America which we can do if we’re really needing the money.
2 – Producing online content: Its possible to earn some money from advertising on our website and social media pages. Speaking frankly, the amount is very little, but as time goes by and as we continue to publish content and make a name for ourselves we hope this figure will raise. We also sell our photos on stock image websites.
3 – Accepting donations: At first we didn’t like the idea of asking people for help in order to complete our dream. However, so many people have told us how much they enjoy following our adventure and have asked if they could help financially. Eventually we realised that people are willing to donate in order to continue watching our videos and reading our blog posts – they love living vicariously through us. So we created a button on our website where anyone can donate a couple of dollars which goes directly to filling up Vanda’s fuel tank with diesel and literally keeps us on the road.
Wash your own clothes
Using a commercial laundry a couple of times a month isn’t a massive expense, but when you add it all up over an extended period it can be a lot. And when doing your own laundry on the road is so easy there’s no need to spend money to wash your clothes.
Recycle vegetable oil and use it as fuel
Incredibly enough, after a few small modifications, a lot of diesel cars can actually run on vegetable oil! The older and simpler the engine is (less sensors and electronic components) the easier the conversion to using vegetable oil as fuel.
It is imperative to filter the used oil to get rid of any nasties first, but we’ve tried it multiple times with the only side effect being the smell of fries following us as we drive!
By going to restaurants and fast food outlets you can even get barrels of used oil for free!
Find those free WIFI spots
Nowadays a lot of businesses offer free WiFi to their clients – from juice bars and coffee shops in Vietnam to supermarkets in Canada and visitor centres in Australia, you’ll be covered!
Buying data or an internet plan can get pricey as soon as you start going from country to country and staying for short periods – thats why we’ve found it better to use free WiFi when we can and enjoy the great outdoors when there’s no connection.
If you’re looking for a SIM card that will work anywhere you go in the world at a reasonable price, check out EasySim4You.
Learn to service and repair your car
If you’re setting out on an overlanding adventure, knowing your vehicle and how to fix it will save you a lot of time, frustration and money. You’ll be able to service your car on the side of the road, and get yourself out of any tricky situations if the car decides to stop working in the middle of nowhere.
We’ve again saved thousands of dollars by taking spare parts with us and doing all mechanical work ourselves.
Partsouq has saved us a lot of money. It’s a parts dealer based in Dubai that stocks original parts for any vehicle at very reasonable prices.
Start giving lifts
This is a fantastic way to make new friends, break up the monotony of the road and save some money by sharing fuel, food and accommodation costs.
We specifically modified our van to include 4 seats and 2 double beds so that we could have friends, family or strangers travel with us. It’s worked really well so far, saving us some money but best of all it’s allowed us to have amazing experiences making life-long friendships and strengthening family bonds while on the road.
Have we missed anything? Leave a comment below with your tips for overlanding on a budget.