It’s so important to us to keep a tight rein on our travel spending. If we don’t, we run the risk our savings won’t last and we’ll have to go back to work. Not a situation either of us wants.
So a thrifty approach to travel is essential.
Here’s how we spend less so we can travel longer. Overlanding on a budget isn’t as difficult as you might think.
Before we launch into the detail of how to save money on the road, make sure you’ve read our post on how much overlanding costs. It’ll give you a high level view of our average daily spend and an indication of the largest category of spending you can expect too.
Buying an overland vehicle
Buying an overland vehicle is the greatest financial outlay before an overland adventure. We’ve seen overland vehicles costing over €250000. We’ve seen some worth less than €2500 too.
Rather than dwell too much here on vehicles of choice, we’ll focus on things to consider when buying a vehicle to keep your running costs down.
Saving money on fuel
Over the past 13 months, fuel accounted for 21% of our spend. That’s a hefty sum. We’ve travelled through 5 South American countries during this time and driven 18000 miles. So how can you reduce your fuel costs?
When deciding what overland vehicle to buy, consider how economical it is. The more fuel efficient your vehicle, the less money you’ll spend on fuel. Given fuel is such a massive proportion of an overland trip budget, this’ll add up to a fair amount of cash.
Driving speed has an impact on fuel efficiency of your vehicle too. So driving at 10 kph slower will reduce your fuel bill quite a lot. When we bought our camper van Baloo, she had a speed limiter fitted.
We considered removing it but decided to leave well alone, more to avoid introducing technical issues than anything else.
The upshot is we can’t drive Baloo any faster than 67 mph although in reality, it’s rare to ever get upto full speed. We tend to cruise around 80 kph or 55 mph and this really helps keeping the fuel consumption down.
Keeping your vehicle well maintained also helps keep fuel costs down. Keep your air filters clean, drive on correct tyre pressure for the road conditions and avoid loading anything on your roof.
If you’re converting your vehicle for overlanding, make sure you keep the weight down as much as possible too. Our article on modifying your overland vehicle is loaded with terrific advice in this respect.
Depending on where your overland adventure takes you, you can take advantage of apps indicating where to buy the cheapest fuel in your vicinity.
Spend to save on your vehicle maintenance
Keeping on top of your vehicle maintenance will help you avoid unnecessary breakdowns that could result in a huge mechanic’s bill. Familiarise yourself with the recommended maintenance schedules for your vehicle make and model.
You should have a maintenance schedule for at least:
- Engine oil
- Gear box oil
- Diff oil
- Brake oil
- Clutch oil
- Air filter
- Fuel filter
- Engine coolant
Over and above the recommended maintenance schedule, make sure you know how to check the levels of each of these and what they should read. This will save you paying a mechanic to check for you. You can find the how-to details in your vehicle’s handbook.
Travel insurance costs
Now we’ll never tell you to save money by not taking out a travel insurance policy. Quite the opposite in fact. Assess your insurable needs and buy a policy to cover them.
I know the cost of a long term travel insurance policy is high but don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s a waste because you’ll never claim against it.
Consider if you have an accident and need medical care. Worse still medical evacuation. Without travel insurance you’d need to pay these bills yourself, often before receiving treatment.
Can you afford this? If not, buy a travel insurance policy. If you can, why are you even reading our budgeting guide?
Save money on shipping
This isn’t cheap and you have little influence over the cost. Take a look at our article on how to ship a vehicle for loads of information about this and how you can save money where possible.
While your vehicle (and home) sail the high seas, you need somewhere to sleep. This could be a massive drain on your travel fund as you pay for flights and hotels while you wait for your vehicle to arrive.
When we shipped Baloo across to South America, we compared the cost of travelling with her on the cargo ship v flights and Airbnbs. If the ship’s captain delays the shipping schedule after departure (as they often do), we’d need to continue paying hotel bills as we waited if we didn’t sail with the van.
Based on the actual schedule, our overall costs were a little higher sailing with the vehicle but the experience was well worth it.
The point here is to consider your options and choose an option to suit your budget and travel aspirations.
Minimising accommodation costs on an overland trip
For most holidays, accommodation takes a large proportion of the travel budget. We avoid this on overland trips with ease because of our vehicle of choice.
We built our camper van to cater for all our needs. We sleep and cook in the van. We have a bathroom. We have a high roof so can stand up inside without crouching, so it’s no hardship to sit indoors when the weather is awful.
We keep our batteries topped up with solar power and driving so we can charge laptops, camera batteries and run our fridge.
A self sufficient van gives us the freedom to camp or park overnight anywhere legal and safe to do so. We only go into a campsite when we want to or can find nowhere else to park.
And please, if you plan to wild camp on your overland trip, do so responsibly. Read more on this in our guide to wild camping in your camper van.
Even without all the onboard essentials, you can reduce accommodation costs if you have some essential equipment. A tent allows you to wild camp or use campsites rather than hotels or hostels.
Investing in a good quality camping chair and even a small table will make outdoor living more comfortable too.
Long term overlanding can have it’s cons. It’s not all flip flops, sunshine and epic landscapes. If you get weary on the road, you can always take some time out by house sitting. We’ve just secured our first house sitting opportunity in Uruguay.
We’ll spend a month living in a house, taking care of the owners’ pets and have amazing wifi all at no financial cost to us.
The facilities to self cater on your overlanding trip will save you a fortune on restaurants. If you’re building your overland vehicle, installing a well equipped kitchen and fridge will support this.
If your overland vehicle is a car and you can’t install a fitted kitchen, basic camp cooking equipment is perfect. A good cooker, pots and pans and utensils in your kit will enable you to cook up a storm.
Choosing where to shop will help save money on the road. For dry products like rice and pasta, try to buy in bulk if you have space to store it. For fresh produce, follow the locals to the markets.
It’s a perfect way to save money and immerse yourself in the local culture too.
Saving cash on communication costs
We need good wifi. We run this travel blog and uploading photos and our articles isn’t possible on a ropey wifi connection on our mobile phones. So we spend a lot of time thinking about where we can get a good connection so you can benefit from our musings.
If your route will follow a good phone signal, check in your home country if telecoms companies offer a great value roaming data package. We couldn’t get one from the UK to last more than 2 months.
Failing that, consider local sim cards and data packages. Some data packages in South America seem fantastic value but they’re only available to residents.
A local sim card with data is cheap and great for receiving Whatsapp messages and providing enough data to research your route or get updates from the overlanding community in the Facebook groups.
We love finding free wifi! Getting a wifi signal at a fuel station or town square is always a cause for celebration for us. This is how we roll!
Part of our overland journey involves visiting some of the key tourist attractions along the way. While the tourist industry has done a fantastic job of making places accessible to us, they often come with an entrance fee. Some are pretty expensive too.
While cost may not stop you from visiting let’s say Machu Picchu, often you can find ways to visit for less. But not all incredible places cost an arm and a leg.
You can often find things to do for free. From free walking tours in capital cities, to visiting museums on the right day of the week and many things in between. Even visiting Fitz Roy in El Chalten, Argentina was completely free of charge!
Saving money on an overland trip or even a short road trip is easy. Budgeting becomes part of the lifestyle. With planning and preparation, overlanding on a budget allows your saving to go a few miles further.
Can you recommend any other ways of saving money on an overland trip? We’d love to hear your ideas to help us all stretch our savings a few more miles.
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