The short answer is relatively simple. Over the past 18 months we have discovered that the less we have, the happier we are and that we now have a really strong desire to continue our current travels and focus our attention on things we are passionate about. That might not be the expected answer or the most satisfying answer for some people who were maybe expecting to find a summarised version of our CVs and life history in a few bullets. There is obviously a financial side of the story which we intend to go into below as well, but we don't think we did anything that special and reflecting on the question more recently we really believe that the answer does, for us at least, lie in these two key discoveries. They have been really important to us and we feel they do go a long way to explaining how we can afford our travels.
Lower Costs Than Expected
Sitting in our 2-bedroom flat in Durham with the heating on, our car on the drive for commuting to work, our gym membership, trips out and other things to make us happy after work, buying what we fancied or what was quick to heat up from Tesco we could never really have imagined our life now. Our wildest dreams, all the planning, spreadsheets and budgeting still wouldn't have informed us. We sat many evenings after work desperately wanting a break but too afraid of the risks and regrets if things didn't work out. But as we've recently reflected we would never have been able to know what opportunities were waiting, things we would never have considered, and also just how much we as people and therefore our needs would change.
Our life on the road costs much much less than we had originally expected.
Over the past 18 months we have had the time to learn and develop simple strategies which keep our costs down. We have always been savers and so were already quite waste concious but we've had the time to learn and develop simple ways to save money that suit us but which also have the added benefit that they tend to be healthier choices, support local communities and benefit the wider global and natural environment too. Developing these strategies is an on-going journey that we really enjoy and get benefits and pleasure from in so many ways in addition to saving money - from shopping on local markets and meeting people, learning to cook from scratch, cycling or walking to explore areas etc. Once one new strategy becomes a habit, we look to see if there is something else we want to or can change.
The only things that we have now which we didn't have back in Durham while working and that we never really factored into our budgeting was TIME and lots more ENERGY!
Over the past 18 months we have also changed so much as people and so therefore have our needs and the things which make us happy. We know our way of travelling isn't for everyone. We've met others like us but we've met plenty of others who have different preferences. Whether others prefer to eat out more, prefer staying on campsites more often, prefer bigger cities and touring more etc etc.
We've reflected on and written about just how many different ways there are to travel and tour in a motorhome that really the only answer to the question 'how much it costs to motorhome tour' is 'however much you want it too'. I have posted up a summary of our costs at 6 months as an indication of one way of touring for anyone who might find it helpful and I will get round to updating it soon (although not much has changed significantly, we are just spending a little less these past few months).
Balancing Costs & Income
So then the other part of the answer to the question how do we afford our motorhome travels is our income. This could be considered from two different angles. One way is that our lifestyle preferences and choices could determine what income we need to generate. Alternatively the type of lifestyle we adopt would have to be determined by the level of income which we had (or were willing to work for). These are obviously the two extremes by which to approach the question and our story falls somewhere in between.
We really love and get great pleasure from our new simpler way of life, whether travelling in a motorhome or not. But we do love travelling and so we have a strong desire to continue our adventures for the time being. Some people think we are missing out on certain things by keeping such a close eye on our costs and that we must be unhappy. But we can not stress enough just how much happier we are having the opportunity to travel and having the time and energy to do the things we are passionate about. On the other hand we know of many other people travelling on much smaller budgets than us and are aware that there are many areas in our spending where we could cut costs more if we wanted to but for various personal reasons we choose not. For example we do stay on campsites when we feel like we want to (or even pay for an apartment rental); we always pay the motorhome aire fees if there are any; we are increasingly choosing to support and buy mostly organic food; we have several insurance policies that other might decide are unnecessary and we are continually trying to increase our donations to charitable causes.
So that means how we afford our motorhome adventures is a fine financial balance between what lifestyle preferences we have i.e. what we would like to spend and what income we have available to us or would be willing to work to earn. Currently this balance has just naturally equilibrated and so for now we count ourselves very fortunate that we are in a position financially not to have to search for paid work. This might change in the future, we don't know - but then we also know you can't always expect the future to be as you want or plan it (a lesson we learnt very quickly when Dan was in hospital in February 2014). We do still keep one eye on the future when considering our budget but we now have a much different perspective of future planning. Plus should the time come that we need to find paid work, not only are there many opportunities for paid work on the road which we had never even considered possible (we will try and write more about the ones we've come across in the future). We are also now understanding the importance of aligning the things you care and are passionate about with your work activities, paid or not.
Income and Our Background
But although we don't need to find paid work at the moment, this doesn't mean we have won the lottery or sold a .com business. And so we would like to give a short answer to this part of the question as well. We may write more in the future, maybe give a more detailed timeline, but as the quirks and timings were unique to us at the time and didn't make much difference, if any, to the overall outcome, it doesn't seem that useful to give a full outpouring of our life histories!
So in short, firstly we do count ourselves very fortunate to have be able to go to university - the first in our families and we are grateful for our education. We met at university but Dan was one year ahead and so worked for one year whilst I finished my studies. Neither of us have ever really been particularly driven by material possessions and were savers by nature, probably it was conditioning from our upbringings - our families brought us up very much along the lines of if you can't afford it, save up until you can. Except for buying a place to live, which was seen as a very good thing to do as soon as possible - maybe they encouraged it so much because it had been difficult for our families during their lifetimes. So when we moved up to Durham for work in 2006 we were able to get a small deposit together to buy a flat from Dan's savings and a small loan from my family. This was charged at interest. Some people have often thought this was odd but I really am grateful for this because it taught us a lot of valuable budgeting lessons and also meant we were extra motivated to save to pay it back as quickly as possible.
A little later and somewhat inspired by a BBC TV series called 'Pay off Your Mortgage in 2 Years' we started cutting costs even more, selling things we didn't need, began sacrificing holidays and taking on extra work in the short term - basically anything spare went into repaying the mortgage. We always knew it would be more like 5-10 years for us but thought that if we could significantly reduce our mortgage we could at least reduce our largest outgoing and therefore reduce the need to work as much in the future. By this point, although we experienced it at different times, in different ways and for different reasons, we were both increasingly feeling dissatisfied with life.
Although we took a slightly unconventional route with our careers after university, we didn't do anything particularly special. We think we made it more complicated than it needed to be over the years as we built a collection of incomes which we juggled, often working our day jobs as research assistants, at the same time as finding some self employment as well as starting a social enterprise and small business. Again we may write about it in more detail another time but because some projects worked out and others really didn't, our financial position wasn't any different to what we would have expected if we'd taken the conventional route of one full time day job since university.
We would have been able to meet our aim of paying off our original mortgage but when we moved for work in 2009, after the property crash, we couldn't sell our flat so we did keep it on (and which we rented out until recently selling it). When we did move back to the area a year later we increased our mortgage liability to buy a house with a garden. But after our 10 years of work and saving the short answer is that we are in the position where we now have a house which is rented out to a group of students and after the associated costs to managing agents, insurances, ground rent etc we can just about balance this with our outgoings on the road. We have a small amount of savings to fall back on in case of emergencies with the house or motorhome.
Once again this might not be the answer someone visiting this page based on its title was expecting but it is what we feel is our answer. For quite some time we contemplated taking a career break but were too scared about the risks and didn't think we were in a financial position to take one. Obviously as we have written elsewhere the catalyst for our first starting a motorhome adventure was a health scare, but we had already made the arrangements for a shorter career break as an extended honeymoon. As it turns out, and why we want to share our story, the cost of living can be dramatically lower than we ever thought. So we don't actually think that going into a lengthy breakdown of our own CVs would be that helpful for anyone considering a break themselves but instead we just want to highlight once again that there are so many ways to travel at whatever level of budget.
In our opinion affording a motorhome adventure, or any other form of travelling for however long or short, is just about balancing what you have available (whether in savings or income) or if and how much you are prepared to work with the lifestyle preference you have, things you are prepared to compromise on or not and the strength of desire to travel (or take any other form of career break). One thing we again want to stress though is that we now know we could have afforded to go a lot sooner. We've written about it more here but we really couldn't have planned or known what opportunities might have arisen and how we would change as people
Currently we are grateful to be in a position to not have to look for paid work and therefore are able to use our time for travel but also learning and pursuing things that we are increasingly realising our passion for. We hope sharing our story might be useful (especially to anyone who's had enough patience to get to the end of this post!).
One Final Point...... Importance of Our Monthly Budgets
Both of us believe that another important reason we have and continue to afford our motorhome travels is that we record everything we spend to the euro cent or penny as well as every cash withdrawal. We believe this has been really important, not just on our travels as we did start this habit beforehand. It might not be everyone's cup of tea but once we set up our original and very simple spreadsheet, it allowed us to see and keep a track of our spending as the month progresses. (We've met others on our travels who use a notebook and it works just the same so it really doesn't have to be a complicated exercise). On our motorhome adventures, this budgeting did at first influence some of our choices as we neared the end of the month so that we could stay on budget. This was because we were unsure about how our spending might fluctuate from country to country or month to month. But the longer we are travelling and understand our preferences we don't really think about our spending any more, now confident that it will work out. Every few days when a collection of receipts has built up, I input them into the spreadsheet and have a quick look to see what we have 'left' in the budget for the month. This takes minutes. At the end of each month as soon as we get a secure internet connection, we check our bank accounts and make sure everything tallies as we expected from our spreadsheet. Again this takes just a couple of minutes. It doesn't take long, it doesn't have to be complicated and although we respect it might not be for everyone, for us this has been a really important factor for continuing to fund our travels.
At this point in time we have decided not to have children which does allow us to travel on the income which we have available to us. We know that it would cost more if we had children and we may have been even more risk averse to leaving our employments with that responsibility. Our decision not to have children may change in the future and so if it did we would obviously have to adapt our lifestyle preferences and things we were to compromise on if this was something we really wanted. We wanted to mention it here though because although we know that children would change our financial situation, we have seen several families with young children on long motorhome tours, some from the UK, some from further afield like Australia. Some families we have spoken to have children under school age and are travelling until it time for their child to start school. But we have also met and spoken to parents who have decided to home school their children whilst they either take a career break or work remotely from their motorhome. We're sure there are others on the road with children keeping blogs, and although we haven't met this family in person, we have been told their blog has been useful to others on the road: The Meek Family.