How We Afford Full-Time Travel with 3 Little Kids

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Sarah Fischer
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This post was originally written as a guest post for our travel friends, The 7Wayfinders. Go check them out!

Hola! Aloha! Bula! Thanks for being here! We’re the Lost Bells — a full-time traveling family of 5 with three little kids 5 and under. We began traveling full-time at the end of November 2018. We stay in a new country each month — so far we’ve visited Costa Rica (with a quick stop in Florida), Hawaii (plus a few days in southern California) and Fiji — and we’ll head to New Zealand in just a few days. We love seeing the world, getting to know the local people, learning new things and experiencing amazing cultures everywhere we go.

People are always wondering how we afford to travel full-time and many people assume we’re “rolling in dough” as Travis Timmons put it in a podcast episode I did with him while we were in Costa Rica — (Listen to it here if you’re interested) — but we’re not. We are extremely grateful that our circumstances allow us to travel full-time though.

Want to know how we make it work for us?

  1. My husband, Colby, works full-time. He is a software designer for Rev, a company based out of San Francisco. Prior to full-time travel he worked from a home office in our basement.

2. We make money by renting our home. We purchased our home in Utah in 2013 (the same day our oldest daughter was born actually) with 20% down and then have paid aggressively on it ever since. Between an affordable mortgage payment, high equity in the home, and appreciation of home prices in the area we are able to make a good chunk of money from rent payments each month. We also save money by not paying additional bills like utilities, home insurance, car insurance, internet, etc.

3. We sold both of our cars and most of our possessions. We decided to travel full-time when our youngest was 3 months old and we gave ourselves 3 months to get everything in order. We left just before she was 6 months old and it was an absolute whirlwind. I began pulling everything from the recesses of our 6-bedroom home, which included my husband’s office, and was also the “business office” and “storefront” for 2 businesses I ran on the side. (Keep reading for more on that…). We emptied the storage room, garage, and spare bedrooms of unused or rarely used items first and I began making a weekly trip to donate a carload of items. We made about $40K total by selling both cars and most of our possessions. Our hope is to not touch that money, but to live off of Colby’s income and partner with airlines, accomodations and brands that want to work with our family to make full-time travel more affordable. Send us an e-mail if that’s you!

4. I, Emily, am a teacher, baker, crafter — a busy-maker by nature. Before we welcomed our oldest, Zoe (who took us several years to conceive) to our family I taught elementary for several years. I loved creating my own curriculum and teaching materials for my students so I started a 8 years ago and began selling my teaching materials online via TeachersPayTeachers. This has provided some passive income for our family ever since.

5. Once Zoe was born and we learned that we were expecting Crew I shifted gears from teaching elementary to teaching preschool from our home so I could be home full-time with our kids. We turned our basement into a classroom and I taught preschool from the time Crew was born right up until last summer when our baby, Marley, was born. While this income no longer helps fuel our travels since I am no longer teaching, it did for a long time and allowed us to save. We basically lived on what Colby made and used the additional income to fund our travels or save “for a rainy day.”

6. In 2016 I got antsy when once again I was struggling to get pregnant and decided to channel my frustration into a creative outlet by decorating cookies (you know the decorating videos you’ve probably seen on Facebook or YouTube — that kind of thing). That quickly snowballed into weekly custom cookie orders for all occasions and my @tangledwithtinkering Instagram — where I post all of my creations, and my Tangledwithtinkering YouTube were born. Love all things crafty? Me too. Go check out my channel here. The money I made from decorating cookies and cakes became a small amount of supplemental income as well that helped fund our travels and savings.

7. So in short, basically we are able to travel full-time because my husband’s company (Thank you Rev!) is flexible and allows him to work remote — but also because we established early on that travel was important to us and we were determined to work hard to make it a priority for our family, despite the costs. One key principle in making that happen for us is making sure we spend less than we make. We also strive to give back to those in need. We contribute 10% of our income to our church each month and look for opportunities to serve in each community we visit.

So, now you’re wondering what does our full-time travel look like and how much we spend?

Keep in mind we’ve only been doing this for 3 months and aren’t certain how long we will travel full-time for, but so far we:

  1. Stay in airbnb’s for a month at a time to:

a) get a discounted monthly rate (and we try to shop around for the best deals),

b) ensure we have wifi, separate bedrooms so the baby can nap, a kitchen for meal prep, and a washer (and dryer when we’re lucky!)

c) allow enough time for us to adjust to time zone changes and get to know the area and people a bit

d) minimize flight expenses and the physical/mental/emotional toll of traveling with 3 little kids

2. Buy our own food and cook most meals at home. We try to eat out no more than once or twice a week.

3. Are selective about what “extras — i.e. excursions, activities, amusement parks, etc.” we do. We try to limit ourselves to no more than one, occasionally two, paid activities in a week and try to spend most of our time together outdoors appreciating the landscape, scenery and wildlife. We love hiking, swimming, and exploring together.

Can you travel even cheaper?

Absolutely. We obviously try to save money to make full-time travel more affordable for our family, however we don’t travel the cheapest way possible. There are much cheaper accomodations out there, especially if you’re not traveling with children, or if you are flexible on what you ‘need’, or aren’t set on private accomodations (like hostel-type housing).

Another way that you can cut costs to make it more affordable is to not rent a car. We do rent a car, and we need an SUV to fit all 3 kids and all of our luggage, but sometimes the cost is like a kick to the gut ($1800 for a month in Costa Rica, and $1700 for a month in Fiji — it was the cheapest in Hawaii, go figure!?)

We also spend a lot on food. I have dealt with health challenges since I was a child and eating healthy is a high priority for our family. We eat lots and lots of produce and try to avoid super processed, preservative-packed food, so we could definitely save money on food if we wanted to.

I’m sure there are other obvious ways to save that I’m forgetting, but those are just a couple. With more and more people deciding to try out this travel lifestyle there are endless ways to make it work.

We would love to hear from you and know what your life and travel plans look like! Hop on over to our Instagram and say hi @LostBells! Or see our kids experience the magic of giving at Christmas in Costa Rica on our YouTube, the Lost Bells, or read more about our journey on our blog

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