Budget Report: One Year On The Road

All the receipts have been counted. The final numbers are in. I won’t leave you in suspense. How much does it cost to RV around North America for one year?


The first and biggest thing that stands out to me about this number is this: I TOTALLY ROCK!! I mean really, $1,100 under budget??? How good am I at budgeting? Woop woop!!

For a bit of background you might want to check out these posts about our trip plan:
ANNOUNCEMENT: I am changing my life
Introducing Big Baby Blue (our new truck)
6 weeks to go and a brand new 5th wheel
How much does all this cost anyway? (3 month budget report)
The cost of our new lives 6 months in (6 month budget report)
9 months of nomadic life and the meaning of time (9 month budget report)

In short, our plan was to sell our house in Victoria, BC, close our businesses, buy an RV and travel around North American for one year with the goal of experiencing and photographing as many national parks and other beautiful places as possible. Our agenda consisted of simply “clockwise” starting from Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada and heading east.

We found an awesome truck and a very comfortable fifth wheel and set off in June 2011.

Trip Banner

Here is the route we took going clockwise.

Please click the map to view a larger version.

We went across the continent fairly quickly because it was summer and we were trying to outrun the heat wave and we wanted to spend the summer months in the maritime provinces in Canada. In the fall we followed the changing colours down the east coast of the United States. We spent December and January in Florida, a little longer than expected, but we kept moving more and more slowly because the weather wasn’t very nice outside of Florida. Then in February we followed the gulf coast along all the way to Texas. We spent the spring in the desert: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. After Utah we headed over to the coast of California before turning north to head home.

Here is the original budget plan compared to how it all worked out in the end.

The pre-trip expenses are things like buying a year’s worth of all necessary medication for us and the dogs, travel medical insurance, RV and truck insurance, paying for storage for the stuff we kept, winterizing my boat, and buying everything we needed for the RV like generators, batteries, an inverter, storage boxes, a new brake controller, an ipad, a ramp for the old dog etc.

Ongoing expenses are the monthly expenses while we are on the road.

Vehicle expenses is the cost of the truck and RV for the year (originally it assumed we would sell them on return, but now that we are keeping them it shows depreciation) plus the money we spent on repairs and upgrades to the truck when we first bought it and subtracting money I got from selling my existing truck.

I also took into account investment interest I from the money I received from the sale of the house since I wouldn’t have that money if we didn’t go on the trip.

As I have said before a trip like this can be done with a smaller or a bigger budget. The point is only to give you some real numbers to work with and a glimpse into our lifestyle to help you if you are planning a similar trip in your future.

Now let’s see how the ongoing expenses added up:

Of course the estimates were not perfect in each category but my technique of generally rounding up each estimate seems to have worked. There is always a category that is going to blow out the budget and you never know which one it is going to be when you are at the planning stage.

I was pretty much on target for fuel costs. We drove 46,000 kilometers (abut 28,500 miles) on the truck. It’s hard to say how much of that was towing because of course we disconnected and used the truck for day trips. I would guess about half of the milage was towing.

The camping expenses were also pretty close to the budget. I was surprised by the huge difference in camping fees as we travelled. We budgeted an average of $25 per night knowing that some places with no hook-ups would be less and other places more. New Orleans during Mardi Gras and the Florida Keys at Christmas were obviously going to be more exprensive. The one place that absolutely stunned me was the KOA in Bar Harbour, Maine, (Baa-Haa-Baa) where we camped in a puddle for $55 and if we wanted out of the puddle it was going to be $80. Outrageous!

It seemed if we went anywhere that was within half a days driving distance from a big city it was very expensive and that was certainly the case in the north eastern portion of the USA.

We were way under budget on food for both us and the dogs. Food is about half the price in the USA as it is in Canada.

Internet and cell phone costs ended up being more than planned because we had to buy new phones for Canada, then we bought a phone for the USA, then we bought a sprint mifi, then a wifi antenna, then a verizon mifi (thanks to the guy that let me borrow his USA address because verizon wouldn’t sell me a mifi without a zip code!).

Activities … well we were in national parks all the time and once we bought the passes for the national parks in Canada and in the USA there was not much need to spend money on activities. What is in this category is tickets to Michael Jackson’s Immortal World Tour (Cirque du Soleil) in New Orleans, kayak rentals, some tours and the bicycles and snorkel masks we purchased.

The ferry trips getting on an off Vancouver Island were slightly under budget since we got a good fare leaving during a weekday and then returning via Port Angeles turned out to be less expensive than if we went to Vancouver.

The miscellaneous category is where all the veterinarian bills ended up. I took my old beagle Oscar to the vet 9 times during the trip! The first 3 times were the result of a carpet eating incident. Then he got geriatric vestibular disease when we were in Florida. It is kind of like a stroke except dogs can recover from it in a few weeks. The other 5 vet visits were because of continual coughing which turned to be related to his heart disease. We finally got that figured out when the geriatric vestibular disease came back. He kept having these episodes that were like strokes. We got back to the pacific coast, he smelled that sea air and walked on the beach, and then, one week before we got home, he gave me the look and asked me to let him go. Saying goodbye to Oscar is the hardest thing I have ever done. He was almost 16. I am so glad that he got to see and smell so many places in his last year.

Oscar at Canon Beach, Oregon
Oscar at Canon Beach, Oregon

Please click the image to view a larger version.

Ok, back to the budget…

Lastly we were over budget in Truck and RV maintenance. We bought an older truck and got a killer deal on it so we had a fair sized budget to maintain it in the first place. But we weren’t expecting to have to rebuild the transmission a couple of months into the trip. If it wasn’t for that we would have been within budget. Then we had a cracked exhaust manifold and finally we bought new trailer tires at the end of the trip.

A few trip stats:
Miles we drove: 46,000 kilometers (abut 28,500 miles)
Number of campsites: 105
Average daily cost for the year: $70 per day each

After the year was up we were going to sell the truck and RV and buy a house in Campbell River, a smaller city on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and start up our businesses again.

However we quickly realized that we love the nomadic lifestyle and didn’t miss a thing about home ownership (ok, I miss my lazyboy recliner, but that’s it). I certainly don’t miss the gardening (which in Victoria is weeding, weeding, weeding) or the leaky basement or the mortgage payment.

So our plans for the future have changed. We decided to become snowbirds from now on and continue living in our RV full time.

If you are planning an RV trip in the future, please feel free to ask me any questions you want in the comments. I’ll try to help if I can.


I’m going off the grid now for week while I travel to a remote area of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, where there is definitely no internet access.

When I return I will have a post about what you can achieve by by taking risks, jumping in with both feet, and focussing all of your efforts on doing things that you love.

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  1. Joe Hudspeth says

    YEA!!YAHOO! Glad to see you after it Anne. Dream Big-Do Big! Looking forward to many great adventures and beautiful photography. Well done!

    • says

      Thank you so much for your enthusiasm Joe!! It really is a pretty big accomplishment if I think about it. It’s amazing what we can do when we let go of what we are supposed to do.

  2. says

    What an accomplishment!
    What a great adventure! I just finished a book by a couple who traveled from Patagonia (Argentina) to Venezuela, it took them 5 years, and had a baby on the trip…More people are making this decision and leaving their dream, very admirable….wish you the best for the future!

    • says

      Thank you very much Matea. I have been following lots of travel bloggers who are doing a similar thing to my trip. There seems to be more and more people either taking a career break or finding a way to work on the road and lots of them have families too. It just proves it can be done if it’s what you really want. Thanks for the encouragement :)

    • says

      Thank you Russ! It’s actually been really nice to share the ups and downs of travelling. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t blog about the sad stories or the cost of things but I think in the end it might help others who are considering doing the same thing. I really appreciate all of your support along the way :)

  3. Buck Seling says

    VERY jealous of your trip. We are celebrating 5 years since we purchased our motorhome. My wife and I work full time, but we average about 70-75 camping nights each year. We plan to travel in an RV once we retire and sell everything we don’t need. Best of luck in your adventures.

    • says

      Hi Buck, Wow you guys must camp almost every weekend! Good for you!! Well you know you can live in an RV if you have spent that much time in it so I’m sure you’ll have no problem adjusting to a full-time travelling lifestyle. I hope you retire soon so you can start :)

  4. Jon Lamrouex says


    I knew when I met you at the Seattle BP conference you were special. I thought it was just your skill with the camera and the glowing personality. Now I know it covers so much more.

    I have followed your trip, and photography since you made the announcement.

    Keep up the great work. You have offered a view into the life of a visionary to us common folks. I will continue to live vicariously through your photos and written word as long as you will allow.

    Keep shooting and especially writing. How about a novel about a nomadic couple capturing the beauty of North America and solving mysteries!

    Bye for now


    • says

      Hi Jon, That is so sweet!! *blush* The “life of a visionary”!? Oh my! Now that is something to try to live up to :) That sounds like a great goal to aspire to achieve to me. Thank you so much for all your kind words. It really means a lot to me to have your support and encouragement. Great idea for a novel too. That would be quite the task writing something like that, but I will definitely add it to my list of possibilities. Thanks again Jon.

  5. says

    Fun to see your figures – especially for someone who spends a large part of the year living out of a 5th wheel. We tend to travel less and stay longer in places, this not only saves some in fuel costs, but also in camping costs, as the average nightly rate is often substantially lower when you stay for a month. I have trouble getting past the West – may need to expand our travels going forward.

    Look forward to following your future travels.
    Ron Niebrugge recently posted..Chugach CampingMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Ron! Yes it was a bit expensive going so far and moving so often during our first year of travels. But now that we have gone around the continent once we are going to slow it down. Especially this coming winter we will probably only go to 6 places staying a month in each place. That will keep our costs down substantially while we work on building our businesses so we can keep our lifestyle sustainable. We loved the south west too, but Texas and Florida were also excellent places to go RVing. Towing in Florida is awesome because it is so flat! Thanks for your visit and comments Ron.

  6. Monica says

    Hey Anne,
    I am pretty amazed to see your calculation. It’s not always possible to keep the balance at a level but you did it. Applause for you.

    • says

      Hi Monica, thanks! I have an ipad app to track expenses so once I set up all the categories it was just a matter of entering all the receipts for everything as I got them. Ok, who am I kidding, I kept all the receipts in a shoebox and only entered them every quarter, but it probably would have been easier to enter them every day! I’ve always done the shoebox method of accounting :)

  7. says

    Wow, great job budgeting Anne! I know if I attempted something like this I’d have probably blown through my budget in the first two months lol. I just can’t plan for that long in the future!

    Anyways… I’m glad your trip was a success I can’t wait to see where your next adventures bring you!
    John recently posted..The Stars Are Falling!My Profile

    • says

      Hi John, It wasn’t as hard as you would think to stay on budget because we knew if we spent too much money it would cut the trip short. We thought we might be boondocking in the desert if we ran out of money!! But at least going in the direction that we travelled that was an option. It is so cheap to camp in the southwest USA. I’m looking forward to seeing where the next adventure takes me too :) Thank you so much for all your support along the way.

  8. says

    I’ve enjoyed your trip and hope you take us along on future expeditions. Maybe you can pass through East Tennessee sometime. It’s a beautiful place and you could spend the year shooting within a days drive of the Great Smoky Mountains.
    Richard Siggins recently posted..Black & WhiteMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Richard, you are invited along on all my future travels 😉 We were thinking we would like to do a smaller circle next time and go to all the inside states that we missed the first time around. We just barely missed the great smokey mountains. We were on the blue ridge parkway, but it was around November and it started to get really cold. We were worried about our water lines freezing at night and it was so windy. We ended up deciding to skip the smokey mountains and headed back to the coast to Charleston. But I would really like to see that area. Thank you so much for your visit and comments.

  9. says

    What a cool report!! Its been fun to follow you in your travels. Had I known, I would have waved when you passed through Sudbury, On… if that was the route you were going of course.

    I look forward to read more of your travels, shoots and whatever else you come up with :)

    All the best.
    Jan Winther recently posted..It is written on stoneMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Jan, yes we did go through Sudbury. We didn’t stop there though. We took the route back into Canada through Sault St. Marie to avoid driving through all the big cities in the USA. Thanks for following along with me on my travels, I’m glad you enjoyed it :)

  10. Paul Thompson says

    Well Anne your stories are great and it’s wonderful to have the data so one can plan realistically for big trips.

    After reading your blog and enjoying your wonderful photos I am very tempted to buy a camper and head off from Gabriola next winter–even tho we’re both close to 80 I think we could something like that–slowly!

    Thanks for the thought.


    • says

      Hi Paul, I know you can! We met soooo many people that are in their 70s and 80s that are doing it. I did notice that alot of those people chose motor homes as opposed to trailers or fifth wheels. I think it is because there is no hitching and unhitching and also motor homes have this cool automatic levelling feature. If we park and the fifth wheel is not level we have to drive up on blocks on one side and fiddle around with it. Whereas the motor homes have these automatic stabilizer jacks, you just push a button and wrrrrr, you’re stabilized. That makes the setup and take down much easier. Check out some of the RV forums, I’m sure you will find lots of people to give you suggestions. I hope you do it, no one ever regrets it. Thank you very much for your visit and comments Paul.

    • says

      Hey Nomadic Samuel!! :) I have been to your site many times, it’s a great blog. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your comments. I like detailed budget reports too. It’s nice to know how much money people actually spend doing this kind of thing and hope it encourages others to try it out.

    • says

      Hi Stephen, We sold our house in Victoria BC and used some of the money to fund the trip. But of course we can’t keep doing that so now that the first year is over we are working on ways to make our new lifestyle sustainable. What we want to do is set up some businesses that we can run online so we can work from anywhere in the world.

  11. Marie says

    Hey Ann,
    A dear friend forwarded me your blog because she thinks we have a lot in common and truly so……

    I call myself and nomad due to my constant travels across Canada (I live in Ottawa, Ontario) and the States.Africa and the highlands of Brazil. Like you I am never without my camera and most of all I journal every day. I favorites are Provincial and National Parks I am an avid hiker and biker.

    I retired 5 years ago storing all my possession so to have the freedom to live this lifestyle.

    I am in Vancouver right now house-sitting hoping to be in Arizona and Europe after December 2012.

    If ever you visit Ottawa please get in touch and we can reminisce and share our experiences.

    Happy travels and be safe
    Marie Hardt

    As of December 2012 you can find me in the Ottawa phone book

    • says

      Hello Marie,

      Wow it really does sound like we have a lot in common. I too visit mostly national and provincial/state parks and love the lifestyle of the nomad. Do you have a website where you share your images? If so I would really like to see them. It’s always great to meet people with similar interests and goals so I would love to get together if our paths ever cross.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and safe travels to you.

  12. says

    I just came across your website and found it very interesting. Your photos are very beautiful. What I found interesting is your nomadic lifestyle of one year on the road. I have car camped a lot throughout the years and I enjoy photography and hiking. I plan to retire at 60 yrs old this year and this summer I will head up north for a couple of months to the Yukon but I do it cheaper by finding backroads to park so I can sleep in my car. I have been living in Campbell River for 2.5 years but I find the Island heavily logged. Do you find the same destruction when you travel the Island? I find it difficult to photograph with clear cuts all over the place.
    Looking forward to your future adventures.
    Ron recently posted..FungiMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Ron, yes, I agree, it is difficult to photograph with all the clear cuts. But it is fun to do lots of exploring to find a location with a great view and no clear cuts. They are there but it takes a bit of time to find them and, of course, they always change. This year we have been camping a lot cheaper by boondocking as well. Especially in the southwest there are lots of places to camp in the desert for free. Thanks for your comments!

  13. says

    Just found your blog and my retirement dream is to travel in an RV and do what I love, take photographs and earn money from the road online through my photography and graphic design.

    I love to travel, see new places and hope this will someday happen. Setting up channels online now to accomplish that in the long term.

    I’m pinning this for future and looking forward to following you. Maybe someday we will meet up if you take the Midwestern Nebraska route.

  14. Tracy Telfair says

    You are an inspiration to me. I so admire you and what you are doing. Also kudos to your supportive husband. I love your work and watching your growth and changes over time. The personal info you share adds depth and character and really adds to your blog. Thank you for sharing with us all.


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