How We Keep Our Motorhome Adventure On Budget - Our Strategies to Save Money On The Road

Main Posts Background Image

Main Posts Background Image

Friday 5 February 2016

How We Keep Our Motorhome Adventure On Budget - Our Strategies to Save Money On The Road

Although some difficult circumstances catalysed us taking the plunge and setting off on a motorhome tour, we are now very grateful that these events happened as they opened up the opportunity for us to have this career break.  Although we were always waste concious, we have used the time and energy freed up by this break to learn about, develop and put into practice new life strategies which do save us money.  Some of these strategies are specific to the way we choose to motorhome tour whereas others are more general ways in which we are saving money in our daily life.  They are applicable whether we are motorhoming or not and which we would now continue even when not on the road.   Combining these new strategies has made our experience of the cost of motorhome travels much lower than we could have ever planned for before setting off.  In addition, and in some cases more importantly for us, some of these strategies have had much wider benefits to just saving us money.  However in this post we will just focus on the practical strategies to save money we have currently adopted in the different areas of our budget.

Recently we felt inspired to write about how we fund our motorhome travels as well as update and compare the costs of our motorhome adventures.  As we said in both these posts, the costs of a motorhome tour, short or long, we feel very much depends on personal lifestyle preferences and compromises you are prepared to make balanced with the finances available (whether savings or time prepared to spend working).  Therefore the strategies below are personal to us and we save money in these areas because they are in line with our preferences balanced with our desire to continue our travels.  We know that some strategies might not be everyone's cup of tea; some of them took us time to get used to as well.  One example is it took us time to gain confidence to stay on mostly on motorhome aires or try wild camping.  Another example is that it took several years to change our attitude and preferences towards food (almost a separate journey itself, which we may write about in the future) but we can't say enough how much we prefer the way we choose to cook now.  Our outlook on life has changed so much and continues to do so.  We could never have planned for this.  Some of the things on this list below we would have been sceptical about before setting off and wouldn't have thought it was for us.  However, we decided to give it a go - try new suggestions and recommendations and see how we got on.  Now many of these suggestions have become a habit and although very different to how we used to do things, just feel so natural to us.

The best advice we we were given
As above, the strategies below are personal to us but all we would say is that if you are reading this because you are interested in keeping the costs of a motorhome travels in check and something below interests you but you don't feel entirely convinced whether it would be for you, the best advice we once read and have been following is 'just try it for 2 weeks'.  This advice guided us something along the lines of:  'don't make a big commitment to change anything in upfront, don't convince yourself this is the 'new' way to do it from now; you're not making any sacrifices you're just deciding to trying something that interests you for just 2 weeks.  If at the end of 2 weeks I like the new way, maybe I'll continue for a bit longer, if I'm not sure I might decided to give it another 2 weeks, I might not.  There's nothing fixed, and what will I have lost if I just try a change for 2 weeks. At the end of the day 2 weeks isn't really that long.'  This advice has been what's been guiding our process of small incremental changes.

Country specific costs differences
We might write something specifically about saving money in different countries, like we wrote about touring Switzerland as we are aware that the costs do vary from country to country  - food, diesel prices, meals out etc. However, we believe that our costs haven't varied that much between different countries because the strategies below are possible independent of which country we are in.  But again this is just our experience and the extent that costs will vary between countries will depend on activities, lifestyle/travel preferences etc.

Camping & Parking Costs
1. Staying on aires
We have written more about the benefits of motorhome aires (stellplatz/camperstops) and how we decided whether we stay on them and we have also compared staying on motorhome aires vs campsites but increasingly we have been choosing to stay more and more on motorhome aires and this does save us money a significant amount (see here the comparison and saving for us between 2014/15 and 2015/16 tours).  The majority we visit are free or charge a small parking fee of a couple of euros.  We are using the Camperstop Guide to find out in advance the cost and what services are available i.e. whether there is water or emptying facilities but there are many apps such as NKC CamperContact and also available.

1a. Fill up water and empty when at a free motorhome service point
Depending on where we are driving (because see the point below about fuel economy) we will fill up when water is available for free and we will always empty our toilet and grey water when we have the opportunity.  One reason is that we don't want to get caught short but secondly because there are some areas you need to pay for services i.e. some areas in France only have paid FlotBleu points at aires or some aires allow you to park but direct you to the local campsite for facilities - we've had to pay in the region of 4-8 euros for emptying in some places.  We feel it is more than fair to pay for these services if we are staying in an area for a while and so benefiting from the fact the community is allowing us to stay for free but if we are just passing through and another free option might be available down the road we'll head for that.

2. We don't stay on campsites in high season
Different campsites have different date ranges which they consider as 'high season'.   As a rule of thumb we consider high season between the end of June and the last week of August but we have found it worthwhile checking directly with the campsite we're interested in visiting.

3. We use camping discount schemes
For our last 2 adventures we have had an ACSI discount card (although we have heard of many other such schemes i.e. Camping Key Europe) and this has definitely saved us money.  There are some really lovely campsites which offer rates of between 12 and 16 euros (which includes electricity) - we try to selected the 12 euro ones.  The cost of the card is about £15 and this is recouped after a few nights stay.  However, in our experience it is worth emailing a campsite in advance to ask what's included and what else you might need to budget for.  For example, we have found that some campsites are offering the low ACSI rate as a hook.  Then on arrival taxes other charges are added which are not inline with other campsites in the area - i.e one campsite wanted to charge us 10 euros per night more than the advertised ACSI rate of 14 and it would have been cheaper to be on the non-ACSI campsite down the road!

4. Campsites offer multi-night stay deals
Sometimes campsites offer multi-night stay deals, predominantly in the low season as well i.e. 7 nights for the price of 6 or 14 for 11 etc in addition to offering the ASCI rate but there are many campsites which offer this without having a card if you just ask.  Some offer very low rates (less than 10 euro) for month or more stays so it is worth looking at websites, emailing or asking on arrival.

5. Consider an apartment or bungalow deal in low season
We've written in detail about how we feel these deals have saved us money.  On our longer motorhome tour we have enjoyed the comfort and extra space when deciding to settle in one place for more a month or more and at pretty much the same cost as some campsite pitches!   

Diesel & Driving
1. We fill up when we see a good price
Before setting off we expected that petrol prices vary from country to country and were ready to fill up on the right side of the border, but what we didn't really account for was just how much prices vary from place to place within a particular country and even within a small radius.  We have seen prices vary as much as 40 euro cents / litre on a 10km stretch of road!  Some general rules apply, such as better prices are normally available near cities, mountain valleys tend to be very expensive etc.  However, as petrol prices are varying all the time, when we have internet access we have a quick check online (we use FuelPricesEurope) and note down the average price at the time for the country we are in.  Then as we are driving along if we see a 'good' price i.e. less than the average we fill up.

2. Focus on fuel economy
In general we make sure we do little things like empty water tanks and toilet when we can, check tyre pressures often etc.

3. We use our bikes, feet or local buses to explore an area
This is a personal preference but we have saved a lot of miles and therefore money by parking our motorhome in one place for several days and then exploring the local surroundings on foot or bike as well as find out about local buses schemes (see below).  We are coming across more and more areas, particularly in the summer, which offer bus routes within the whole local area for free or for a very small fee i.e. 1-2 euro per person whatever stop you go to.  Some towns offer free buses direct from motorhome aires into the city centre on particular days i.e. on market day.  This not only saves money on miles but also city centre parking fees and hassle.  So we are now making a big effort to investigate these options.

4. We don't use toll roads very much, if at all
When we have looked online into whether toll roads would save time or money, the answers were mixed.  Mostly for us the first decision is do we just want to 'get somewhere'.  If we aren't in a hurry we enjoy the non-toll rolls mostly because they take us through new and interesting places which we might not have otherwise thought to stop at.  However if we do just want to 'get somewhere' though, we figure our motorhome doesn't like going much above the 90km/hr speed limit of the normal roads anyway and using a planning tool like Google maps shows us that sometimes the alternative route suggested uses some decent free dual carriageways anyway and so there isn't much time saving. We've met some people who've been on many tours so tried many routes options and have kept notes about their preferred routes; we are starting to do this as well.  However, some of the small roads can at times be frustrating - extra braking, reducing speed and then having to accelerate after roundabouts or after villages with speed bumps, 50km/hr or less speed limits etc.  Also in some countries, like Spain, certain sections of toll roads might only be a few euros but which then saves quite a lot of roundabouts etc.  We find the best way for us is to plan our route by combining tools such as Google maps, the country specific online toll calculator as well as the advice and suggestions we have had from people we have met.

Fun & Activites
1. Visit the local Tourist Information Office and look at posters in shop windows
We have been amazed by the numerous free entertainment, festivals, fetes, museums, exhibitions, activities that are on offer for free in so many areas.  The staff at tourist informations are on the whole extremely helpful and can signpost you to events or leaflets which tell you what's going on in the local region. There are also many leaflets and posters in local shop windows. And we've found when you go to one event more information about other similar events are available. For example, in 2015 we went to the Queyras Regional Park Fete because we'd picked up a leaflet in a local shop.  It was a brilliant day with music, shows, stalls etc and we got to try out white water rafting for free! At this event we learnt it was series of events and later in October went to the Barronnies Provencales Regional Park Fete again with music and shows but we also got to have a free 2 hour wild plants cooking lesson and in the afternoon tried a basket weaving workshop -again for free!  Sometimes we've let these leaflets and events guide our travels and we've been amazed by what is on offer for free.

2. Ask about local bus schemes
As above (under Diesel), this saves money because sometimes it is more cost effective than moving the motorhome but we have also found that it has another benefit on our fun.  Instead of always doing a circular walk from the motorhome, we have often used a free or low cost bus to take us somewhere and then walk back home.  Although we haven't, other motorhomers have told us they have done this with their bikes as well.

3. Investigate specific regional Summer discount schemes
In addition to some areas offering low cost local bus schemes in summer, we have found specific regional schemes which either for free or a small cost offer unlimited cable car use, buses, mini golf, tennis, swimming pools, museums, observatories etc.  We have found out about quite a few offered in Switzerland.  But we do always try and check with the local tourist office in advance before we go to see if the recommendations and suggestions we receive from other people are still running.

4. Consider volunteering options
This has benefits which are much bigger and far reaching than saving money but it's included on this list because we've had a lot of 'fun for free' from volunteering.  Although we used to volunteer at home, it wasn't something until this year that we had considered getting involved in whilst motorhome touring. This year we found out about WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and will write more about this particular scheme soon but for around 5 hours a day volunteering you are offered board and lodgings in return.  However, for us it was more about the wonderful experience of being part of and feeling like we were contributing to a community, learning new skills, meeting and learning from some incredibly inspiring people and we also getting invited to some events we would have never otherwise have known about.  We have since met lots of people who have travelled all over the world via schemes like this, whether for short 7-10days holidays to year after year.  It's something we plan to look into far more in the future whilst on the road- whether volunteering to teach English as a Foreign Language, working at animal rescues or on environmental projects - as we feel the benefits from contributing are far bigger than any cost saving.  Fun for free but also so so much more!

We want to write in more detail about the things we've learnt about ways to save money with food for two reasons.  Firstly because 'food and toiletries' is our biggest monthly expenditure in our budget and so we've found many areas to save but secondly because we believe there have been so many other benefits to us than just the cost saving.  We have always been waste concious and these are just some of our simple strategies:

1. We rarely eat out and instead enjoy cooking and trying new recipes
Not eating out but cooking in the motorhome ourselves saves us a lot of money and we have a lot of fun trying new recipes.  We know this isn't for everyone and sometimes people don't understand it but we love the foods we cook now and really prefer our own cooking to eat out.

2. Cook simple, basic meals using whole foods
Before we set off we would tend to buy the higher priced but more convenient food and cooking options such as pre-made sauces, pre-made soups, sandwiches, pre-cooked beans in a can, curry pastes, salad dressings, filled pastas, breakfast bars or breakfast cereals etc.  However now we have more time and energy we've found we actually enjoy learning to and cooking from scratch and the more we learn, experiment and make up our own recipes with available ingredients we have, we are also realising it doesn't always have to be complicated to be delicious and filling.  This saves a lot of money.  Some foods are so inexpensive and yet so versatile - we love lentils, beans, whole grain rices, oat groats, sunflower, flax and other seeds.  We make salads dressings, soups, stews, stirfry, curries etc even our own dairy-free ice creams and breakfast bars all at a fraction of the cost of shop bought.

3. Avoid highly processed foods which tend to be higher priced
As above, by focusing on not buying highly processed food it saves us a lot money as well as having many other benefits.  Any extra processing means that in general the food costs more than the cost of its ingredients (like all the examples mentioned above).  And the more processed the higher the price tends to be compared to the costs of the ingredients.  But even simple things, for example rolled oat or muesli cost more than oat groats; wholegrain flours are really inexpensive and it's very easy and fun to make your own flat breads or chapatis.  We also enjoy things like nut butters and nut milks made from almonds, cashews etc, however they are really easy and much cheaper to make yourself (we found videos on youtube).  On that note as well, we have also experimented and believe that buying nuts in their shell does work out cheaper than buying shelled nuts even once you accounted for the weight of the shells (shelled nuts are far more common on markets and in Europe).  So unless its a traditional local delicacies we really want to try - for example, we are in Spain at the moment and although the price per kilo of olives is much cheaper than tapenade we really wanted to and are enjoying a local speciality - we are saving a lot of money, far more than we would have ever thought by buying non- or minimally processed foods.

3. Stock up when we get the chance
This applies mostly to non-fresh produce.  On the items that we buy the most off - pulses, grains, nuts, dried fruit etc we keep a note of per kilo prices and if we stumble upon a shop offering a good price we stock up.  For example, recently we bought 3kg of organic shelled almonds because in a shop we stopped at they were on special offer at 8euro/kg compared to most shops offering them at between 18-24euro/kg.

4. Don't insist on a 'shopping list'
Very early on the best advice we were given (we were in Switzerland at the time) was don't go shopping with a shopping list.  Moving around on a motorhome tour and being subject to big price fluctuations in different regions, we find that we can keep our food costs down if we were flexible on what we buy - particularly fresh produce.  This means we tend to buy what's grown locally and what's in season, rather than the much more expensive food flown in from overseas.  Not only does this save us money but it has the added benefit that we get to try a lot of new different produce that we might not have tried before as well as support the communities which we are visiting.

5. Open to try new, local ingredients particularly those in season
This point is linked to the one above. By being open to trying new things and not just eating less of the things we know because the are expensive, we have saved money and also have gotten to try some new and exciting foods we might never have thought to try.  Although we don't tend to eat out, we find that because the cheapest price/kg are generally the foods which are grown locally and which are in season we get to experience local and traditional foods.   When we buy from markets and are unfamiliar with something, we have found that the stall holders are very happy to tell you about how to cook or suggest a recipe to try.

7.  Shop at local markets and local stores
We will write more about this as this is something that we are increasingly becoming very passionate about. Not only because we believe it does save us a lot of money whilst touring but because we want to support the local communities which we visit.  From our experience, we believe that shopping at local markets is cheaper than in the supermarket.  We also combine this with the other strategies above i.e. not shopping with a shopping list and buying produce which is in season.  Other benefits include that you get to meet interesting and very helpful stall holders, who in our experience at least, can be very friendly and quick to offer guidance on recipes etc and more often than not always give us a little extra for free - whether something new to try or something which is ripe and ready for eating that day.

8. Foods for free!
Again another topic we're keen to expand on later.  But this year we have been very grateful to meet some wonderful people that have inspired and helped us to discover various foods such as berries, nuts, mushrooms, herbs, wild fruits and other plants that we can forage in nature.  Not only are they as fresh as can be they are entirely free as well!

Laundry & Cleaning
1. Handwashing
When touring we save money on the cost of laundry by doing regular small loads of handwashing.  This also stops a big pile building up in a small living space.

2. Big Machine Loads
When we do use a washing machine for things that are hard to hand wash like bedsheets etc (although we have handwashed these on some occasions), we make sure we utilise the machine to its full capacity.  We have also found places that offer 18kg machines at a much better price than smaller machines (about 8euros) and can do all our washing in one load.

3. Soap flakes
We have read about using traditional soap flakes for doing laundry in early 2015. When we found our first bag in a shop we both looked at each other and said '9 euros for a bag that small'!  The 1kg bag claimed to be over 130 machine washes.  We thought 'yeah right'.  Something that day however still drove us to purchase a bag and try it out and we're so glad we did.  Our mistake had been that we hadn't read the instructions.  Before using it on our first load, we discovered that you mix up approx 45g of soap flakes with a litre of water first, allowing it to dissolve for a very hours to become a gel which then serves for several loads of laundry.  Amazing!  Almost a year later and we've still got more than half a bag left!  This has definitely saved a lot of money and as a benefit is much better for the environment and us too.

4. Cleaning Products
At some point I may write more about this myself but I really found John Robbins - The New Good Life (link opens very illuminating about all the different traditional and very inexpensive cleaning products that I could make myself.  In his book John Robbins details many different recipes he recommends for general surface cleaners, stubborn dishes, ovens etc using very inexpensive things like white wine vinegar, bicarbonate of soda, castille soap.  We have found them to work just as well as shop bought chemical products so this again has saved us a lot of money as well as being better for our own health and the environment.

1. Communication & Internet 
This is something which we feel is still an ongoing learning process but compared to our 2014/15 tour we are much happier with our solutions to keep in touch with home.  More mobile phone companies are offering 'Feel at Home packages' and for phone calls this is working well for us.  It used to cost us between 4-8p to receive calls but now we have a UK Lycamobile 'feel at home' sim we can receive calls for free.  We can also buy bundles of minutes and texts to call friends and family just as if we were at home.  For internet, there are many free wifi points at cafes, tourist informations and public areas in cities.  We always like to have a personal connection for banking and for times when we can't find a free hotspot and this year we have opted to buy local pre-paid internet sims i.e. in Spain we paid 15 euros for 2.6Gb.  It is still more expensive than contracts available in the UK and we will continue to look into 'feel at home' internet packages but the local sims are easy to register for (just visit the shop with your passport) and cheaper than roaming costs using UK PAYG internet sims abroad.

2.  Ferries 
Firstly we try and be flexible about our travel dates.  We don't like many 'special offer' emails and don't normally sign up to these kind of things but we've signed up to receive special offers from the ferry operators on the routes we prefer.  This has saved us money, sometimes up to 50%.  For example our crossing from Harwich to Hoek van Holland in May 2015 with Stena Line only cost us £60.

3. Motorhome or caravan club membership
There are a number of clubs to join and the specific benefits will be different.  We joined the Caravan Club because it saved us money on our car insurance.  It also gave us a discount of around 10% when we booked on some of our ferry crossings through them.  Although we have never used them other people have told us how great the rallies these clubs offer are and how they saved a lot of money on pitch fees this way, abroad and in the UK.  Also just like visiting the tourist information, although we don't look through all the magazines we get sent, when we have, there have been some really great ideas and suggestions included, whether travel ideas, places to visit on a budget, motorhome fixes etc.

4. Charity Shops and eBay
On the occasions that we do need to buy or replace something for the motorhome or ourselves we first check out whether we can find it second hand in a charity shop or online.  Obviously it depends what it is but we are more and more finding that there is so so much exceptional quality second hand things available, crockery, clothes, candles, books etc available in charity shops.  Not only are we saving money, we are supporting a charity with our purchase and also bringing one less new thing into the world.  For example we wanted lightweight camping lounger chairs this year and we found 2 in a local charity in Holland for 7.50 euros each whereas in a nearby shop the same sort of chair new was 35 euro.

5. Make and mend
Around the motorhome we have been making a concious effort to either make ourselves or mend as opposed to buying something new.  We have met some really inspiring people, some who have done some very impressive modifications to their motorhome themselves.  Not only does this save money but it saves resources and often means you get something much better suited to your needs.  Also if we have found that even having a basic understanding of the problem or what needs fixing we can save money by going into a shop and asking for the part needed or be able to assess whether any quote we have been given seems a fair one.  In addition to things around the motorhome or personal possessions, we have also used some of the time and energy afforded by our break to instead of buying things like gifts, cards etc for money we have used our time to make them.  Although we've included this on the 'save money list' it's again about far more than saving money, it has also been a lot of fun and we feel we can put more thought into personalising cards and gifts.

6. Budgeting and record keeping
Technically this doesn't save money directly but indirectly we have found that making sure we have good record keeping strategies has been the key to how we afford our motorhome travels.  We've written about this elsewhere and realise it may not be for everyone but by recording in a simple spreadsheet (we've met other whose do this in a notebook) every penny we spend, we have got to know what things cost and keep an eye on our spending and it is something that has become very important for us.

Things we are working on!!
Gas and Solar Electricity
Compared to what we used to spend on gas and electricity to heat and power our flat at home we are obviously saving a lot of money.  Currently we only spend around £15/month on gas and although we sometimes use campsites electricity a lot of the time the power we use is generated and tops up our leisure battery when we drive.  But as we have reflected on recently, the less we are choosing to drive and the more we choose to try wild camping, the more we are having to reassess our original power solutions.  We tend not to use much power or gas anyway - we are (reasonably) happy to take cold showers, don't watch TV or use many electrical appliances but we know that there are some cost effective solutions.  We know and have talked to many people who are paying only a few euros for gas every month by having larger refillable cylinders.  We've worked out that after just a few months we would be able to recoup the cost of installing the system.  We also know that we want to install a solar panel.  This would mean we would be able to generate free energy.  Not only does this have environmental benefits it would mean that we would not need to pay to stay on campsites if we didn't want to.

LED lighting 
We haven't changed the fixed lights in our motorhome to LED bulbs yet but realise this saves a lot of power and therefore also indirectly maybe some money too.  We have however LED lights and torches which we do use in the motorhome instead of always putting on the installed lighting and being LED this does obviously save on batteries.

No comments

Post a Comment

Error 404

The page you were looking for, could not be found. You may have typed the address incorrectly or you may have used an outdated link.

Go to Homepage