Does It Cost a Lot of Money to Travel Full-Time as a Nomad? Myths and Truths

When I tell people I’m a nomad that travels full-time, they either think I’m a vanlifer who only eats ramen (the cheap kind, not the good kind) or that I must be staying in posh places and spending a lot of money. Well, false on both counts!

I’m here to say: it can, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to be a vagabond. I continue to live beneath my means, just like before I chose the nomadic lifestyle, when I was living a traditional life in a stable home. But it ain’t always easy, and you have to strike a balance. I need a few creature comforts, I need to be able to work effectively, and I like to be in a walkable area. But I also don’t want to be “house-poor,” or in my case, rental-poor. That means less money for activities, food, and brews — the good stuff! 

So, let’s talk comparisons, facts, and figures… and if you’re interested in pursuing a path like me, I encourage you to grab a spreadsheet and bring up your checking account!

But first… “a lot” is subjective. What may be “a lot” for someone in Omaha is probably not for someone in Seattle. (I like to think I’m somewhere in the middle. So take these amounts with a grain of salt!)

A comparison: The cost of homeownership/renting vs. being a nomad

First, get honest about how much it costs to own or rent a home. Beyond your mortgage or rent check, there are additional costs. Electricity. Water. Cable/internet. Taxes. Insurance. Replacing light bulbs, paper towels, and soap, much less inevitable repairs. It adds up! Suddenly, a $1,000 mortgage turns into $1,500 (or more).

When you’re in a rental, you pay one flat fee. And I’m not buying garbage bags or other household goods — all that’s provided. Surprise — I’ve found (and paid for!) whole home rentals, everything included, for as little as $350 a week. What’s cheaper now?! 🙋‍♀️

Suggestion: Find out that overall number that you’re paying. (It might be easier to look at a whole year and take an average, since not all expenses occur each month.) That’s your budget for your nomad life accommodations.

Finding affordable rental properties: What to book

Platforms like Airbnb, VRBO, and all (to differing degrees) allow you to search for shared home stays, whole house rentals, and hotel and motel rooms. Toggle the different filters for the budget you require. For the most affordable stay, book a shared home — flashback to college — it’s like a roommate situation! I do this about 20% of the time. Usually, there’s almost no interaction and I hardly ever see the host, but sometimes, I hit it off and we become best buds! (Like always, read the reviews!) 

The filters I always have applied: wifi, free parking, kitchen, workspace, and pet-friendly. Obviously, any of these could limit search results. Use accordingly based on your needs!

Finding affordable rental properties: When to book

When should you book your rental property as a nomad? Don’t feel like you need to book way in advance. Sure, you’ll have your pick of the most inventory, but prices will be highest. Booking last-minute — day before or same day — can snag you some really good deals.  However, it can be risky and not always work as expected — on a rare day, prices are up vs. down!

In a medium- to low-demand or off-season area, I’ve found that 2-3 weeks is the sweet spot — but this is because my travel is pretty flexible, and I don’t NEED to be somewhere specific at a specific time. Prices will be dropping just a little bit, to lure people who’ve put off finalizing travel plans

Suggestion: research, research, research. There are rentals coming available all the time — whether they’re new to the market or because of a cancellation.

Finding affordable rental properties: How long to book

More turnover means scheduling and paying cleaners more often and the potential for unbooked days in between bookings — so most rental owners offer discounts for longer-term bookings for optimal tenancy. I typically see 10-20% discount in the nightly rate if you book 7+ days, and 30-49% discount if you book 4+ weeks (but this is obviously up to the host, who sets their own pricing on Airbnb and VRBO). Take that long workcation, why don’t ya!

Also, did you know in some states, you can save money by booking a 30-day stay instead of a 29-day stay?!? That’s because some states and municipalities differentiate how short term rentals (under 30 days) and long term rentals (30 plus days) are taxed — and the difference can be hundreds of dollars. Extending your stay can save you a lot on sales and/or lodging tax, which could equate to a few “free” nights!

Suggestion: Play around with dates on the booking sites mentioned above, and see what happens.

And when there’s nothing affordable, and I have a budget to keep… 🤷‍♀️

Unfortunately… I do have a budget to keep. So if I can’t find anything that makes sense, I change my plans. (Being rental poor is pointless — I need to be able to enjoy things!) While oftentimes disappointing, it really is a beautiful thing to be able to have this kind of flexibility when you travel.

A final thought on RV and van life vs. rentals

When I made a decision to become a nomad, I considered an RV or custom van. At the time, it felt like an investment I just wasn’t ready for. I needed reliable wifi to work, and I didn’t want to be confined to a campground or RV park — I wanted to embed myself into a neighborhood and a community! Plus, one of the repercussions of the pandemic — a lot of demand and not a lot of supply for RVs. But I never say never. Who knows what the future might bring?

P.S. Drop a comment if you have any suggestions on places to go and when I should visit! 😘

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