How We Travel Full-Time On $1,400 Per Month

Next up in my Extraordinary Series is Melissa Nance and Wade Smith from The Penny Pinching Globetrotter. They have been traveling full-time for four years and on a low budget of just $1,400 per month. This includes all of their living expenses as well as money spent on travel. In August of 2015, Melissa found out…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 22, 2024

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Next up in my Extraordinary Series is Melissa Nance and Wade Smith from The Penny Pinching Globetrotter. They have been traveling full-time for four years and on a low budget of just $1,400 per month. This includes all of their living expenses as well as money spent on travel.

In August of 2015, Melissa found out she had cancer and spent lots of time thinking about what she wanted the rest of her life to look like.

Travel was at the top of her list, and she was determined to find a way to make it happen.

Neither her nor her husband had a remote job, so they found other ways to make it work, such as her husband working for U.S. National Parks for free camp stays and income.

They have visited 15 national parks, 20 national monuments, camped in 21 states, visited 7 countries, and more.

And, they have done all of this on a very realistic and low budget.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

  • The big obstacles they had to overcome to getting started with full-time traveling
  • The type of RV they have
  • Their monthly budget and what they spend each month
  • What they do to save money while traveling/living
  • How they make money

And more!

You can learn more about their story on their website at The Penny Pinching Globetrotter. You can also find The Penny Pinching Globetrotter on Instagram as well as on Facebook.

Please enjoy this interview. I really enjoyed reading it and learned a ton – so I know you will too. Enjoy!

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Here’s how this couple travels full-time on just $1,400 per month.

1. Tell me your story. Who are you and what do you do?

In my previous life I was the director of a Nonprofit organization in my hometown of Knoxville, TN. I was a single mom who worked hard and was active in my community. 

I was and am a typical type A meaning I am a great planner and get stuff done. 

As a single mom working for a nonprofit I was also frugal. 

Let’s just say I was a professional penny pincher as I had to be one for both work and home.

Now I am still a frugal type A but I travel full time with my husband in our RV and abroad when we can.

2. Why did you decide to start full-time traveling? 

In August of 2015 cancer came knocking on my door, turns out I had Leukemia.

While I was home sick from chemo for months on end I thought lots about what I wanted the rest of my life to look like.

As it turns out travel was on the top of the list.

During this time I realized I didn’t want to go back to working all the time for stuff. I instead wanted experiences. And travel was a way to experience new things.

While researching I discovered that people were actually traveling full time in RVs.  This was the answer to how we could travel full time. 

So I started researching RVs and we started saving. 

We saved for almost two years and were able to pay cash for our RV.  We set out for our new life of full time travel in July of 2017.

3. What are some big obstacles you had to overcome getting started?


Our biggest obstacle was figuring out how to afford full time travel without a remote job or retirement.

Our first step toward affording this lifestyle involved paying off all of our debt and saving money. For almost two years my husband and I didn’t exchange holiday gifts, didn’t eat out and didn’t buy anything unless we absolutely needed to. 

By doing so we were able to pay off our debt, pay cash for our RV and leave with $10,000 in savings.

We rented out our house and made a couple of hundred dollars from that and set out to travel for as long as we could.

Along the way we learned about opportunities working at National Parks and have since lived and worked at three national parks.

As a matter of fact we are right now at Mount Rainier. 

I also learned about mystery shopping and micro tasks I can do on my phone to earn extra money as we travel.

But the true key to our success is learning ways to save as we travel and how to live on less.

4. Tell me about your RV. What do you have?

We have a 1997 Lazy Daze, it’s the same age as my daughter. 

During my research I learned they are one of the best RVs out there so I set out to find us a used one. 

We ended up flying to Missouri to pick it up and driving it home.

5. What budget do you travel on? How did you decide on that number? How much do you typically spend each month and on what?

Our budget averages out to be around $1,400 a month.

This includes all of our living expenses, not just those related to travel. When we first started it was closer to $1,200 but now that we are earning some money we are able to have a line item for entertainment.

I developed our budget based on our expenses.

We had set expenses like cell phones and insurance so that part was easy.  Figuring out the cost to RV took a little more time.  We figured out how many miles we got per gallon and the average cost of gas to figure out our gas line item.  Food stayed pretty much the same as at home as we cook most of our meals.  And we planned to boondock so we had no camping fees to worry with.

Our budget breakdown is as follows:

  • Health Insurance $309
  • Gas & Propane $250 (this varies greatly from $60 a month when working in a park to say $1,000 which we paid in April to get to this job at Mount Rainier. Also when we are traveling overseas we use this line item to cover other things)
  • Storage Unit $49
  • Vehicle insurance $46 (this covers our scooter, RV and Van. We pay yearly for a discount)
  • Cell Phones $175
  • Food and Toiletries $300
  • Entertainment $100
  • Laundry $25 (when we are working a season in a national park we don’t have this expense as its provided for free)
  • Miscellaneous $150 (Vehicle maintenance, medication, unexpected expenses

6. How do you travel on such a low budget? What do you do to save money?

I have learned how to use apps to save on groceries and gas which helps a lot. 

When we are in our RV boondocking is the key for us to stay on budget as it’s free plus we get to spend time in nature which we prefer. When we travel overseas we fly and stay for mostly free as I use points we earned via branded credit cards. So it can sometimes be cheaper for us to travel overseas. 

When we work in National Parks, our expenses are lower as often time it’s free for us to park/camp.  Plus we are earning money.  By working in parks we are able to save enough money to pay for our expenses the rest of the year. 

That way anything I earn via mystery shopping or our blog I can save. 

With this method we are able to save a few hundred dollars or more a month into our savings.

7. How do you make money while traveling? 

My husband works in National Parks during the summer season and I blog. 

He makes more money than me but I work year around and more. 

Some time in the future I am hoping the blogging pays off but right now it only generates a few hundred dollars a month. 

While traveling we do micro tasks using apps on your phones and mystery shopping.  Mystery shopping is great as we are able to get paid to eat out and reimbursed to buy things.

8. What’s an average day like for you?

I am a night owl so I sleep in. 

When I wake up I go straight for the coffee. 

If Wade is working in a National Park I will spend several hours working on our social media and blog.  I then prepare dinner and we hang out at a campfire or watch a movie in the evening. 

When he is not working and we are traveling I spend a good bit of time researching interesting things to see along our route and finding boondocking sites. 

9. What do you like and not like about living in an RV?

I love the freedom RV life offers. 

I realized that what truly makes me feel alive is experiencing new things and when we are traveling almost everyday is a new experience. 

After four years, what I don’t like is not having a bathtub and a dishwasher.

10. What has been your favorite place to visit in your RV so far?

National Parks! 

We are on a mission to see all of the US National Parks.

I would be hard pressed to name a favorite but Lassen Volcanic National Park in California was definitely a surprise as I really had no expectations for it. 

11. Lastly, what are your best tips for someone who wants to start traveling more?

Learn to live on less. 

Chances are you really don’t need all the material things you are buying.  It took cancer for me to realize that it’s relationships and experiences that matter not stuff.  

Have a budget.

It’s the best way to know where your money is going and where you can make cuts.  There are lots of free apps out there to make this easier.  If you don’t know where to start just start tracking everything you are spending, every penny.

But the best advice is just to do it. 

Make it happen. 

If you believe you can do it, you can!

Do you have any questions for Melissa or Wade? Are you interested in this type of travel?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. It’s all possible to achieve, if you set your mind to effective budgeting and cutting down on impulse spending. My assumption is, you can save the extra $400 and still travel full-time successfully on just $1,000 monthly.

    1. Christal

      I use mint mobile as a backup on my samsung Tab A so it is internet and phone My primary phone is with Visible on Verizon network with unbelievable low rate znd referal credits so 25 a month unlimited everything lots of wzys to go these days

      Great article , luv the lazydaze , in order to be able to go now i went with amtiny Rove Lite 14fd camper would luv a lazydaze apprecizte the info and aill be following in future grand article

      1. We looked all over for that Lazy Daze. They are hard to come by. Feel free to follow us:)

    2. Our budget is rather fluid. We do save what we don’t spend for months we are not working in national parks.

  2. That was a really cool breakdown!

    I am curious if you could use a carrier like mint mobile to get your cell phone plan down any lower?

    Thanks for sharing this!

    – Zach

    1. We have looked at different carriers but want to stay on the Verizon network for the best coverage. I do hope to switch us to something cheaper at some point.

  3. A great way to heal. Nature, fun and experience. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. Welcome. Fell free to follow our journey. You can find us at

  4. Martin

    Curious what the overnight fees are on the occasion that you do have to pay. Since you said in national parks ‘oftentimes’ it is free, and if not in national parks, do you typically always have a free place to stay in the RV, wherever you are?

    1. In four years we have only paid to camp maybe 8 times. Those times have been at national parks we were visiting. National parks are usually less than a typical RV park in our experience. We mainly boondock.

  5. B.


    I love that you’re on a great adventure. One day, I would like to do that, too. However, I really don’t know how you make it work on your budget. How is your insurance so low? I have pre-existing conditions brought on by autoimmune issues, but not cancer, heart disease, etc. I can find no insurance even close to what you’re paying. Your food budget also seems low, and I didn’t see a line item for wine. 😉. Seriously though, I’m very happy for you. My day will come, and I enjoy learning from those who have made it work.

    1. We get our health insurance through the healthcare marketplace we’re it is based off of your income.

    2. We use lots of apps to save on food. I talk more about our budget and share recipes and ways to save on our Facebook page.

  6. Sarah

    Does your health insurance cover you across state lines and in different countries?

    1. Across state lines yes it does. The few times I have needed healthcare outside the US it was very affordable.

  7. Wow, this is quite amazing. I always knew that one could limit their expenses so that they can retire sustainably. But I never knew that you could do that with $1,400!

    This is an absolutely eye-opening posts, and I can’t believe the $1,400 *even covers health insurance*.

    That’s wild.

    Thanks for sharing this Melissa!

    1. Kathy Dixon

      That is so cool. One day it need to be soon because we are up in age, to do a few things. You guys are amazing. You have given me great ideals.Thank u very much.

  8. Dinahp

    Where do you get insurance for $300 a month?

    1. The Healthcare Marketplace. It’s based on your income and it’s going up for us to $375 next year.

  9. I’m retired with a total income of about 1400, been living on sailboat for over a year and planning a return to van life. That may not happen if sailboat takes a long time to sell

  10. Julia

    Really cool story!
    I was wondering how do you get a good internet coverage in national parks and remote areas for your blog and other work? Do you have any satellite receivers?

  11. Tori Bastress

    Do you use any income from renting your house to subsidize your rv life?