We do a fair amount of traveling, and when we travel, we travel a fair amount: in addition to the odd week and long weekend here and there, we’ve done two three-month treks across Europe, a month in Amsterdam, and now we’ve got a three week adventure coming up across the southwest.
We are not, to be clear, the 1%, nor are we rootless hippies, earning gas money from chocolate mushroom balls and dumpster diving for our meals. I run a 20 person software company that I can’t be away from for more than a few days at a stretch. So how do we do it?
We’ve refined a few techniques over the years to make travel not only affordable, but actually cash flow positive.
Like I said, I run a software company, so I can’t just turn on my “Out of Office” and disappear for a couple weeks. But several years ago, the building that housed our Seattle office was torn down, leaving us with a decision: should we get a new office or just have everyone work from home? About half the company was already remote, so it really wasn’t that hard (especially given Seattle’s growing traffic problems).
There are definitely some challenges to having a 100% remote office environment (getting people to talk through issues or call from help instead of thrashing alone, for example), but there are also some very attractive aspects. Relevant to travel is the notion that if I’m going to be flipping open my laptop to go to work and closing it when I’m done, I can as easily do that canal-side in Amsterdam or beach-side in Mexico as I can home-side in Seattle. While it does mean that when I travel, I don’t get a “true” vacation, instead letting my family explore while I get things done for a few hours, it also means that I can continue to pull a paycheck on the road.
Not as good as completely cutting the cords, sure, but if that’s the difference between traveling and not traveling, I’ll take traveling.
If you’re into #vanlife, you know the term boondocking: van or RV camping without hookups, generally out in the woods somewhere. Dry camping is a bit more general, and refers to van or RV camping without electrical and water hookups, but can be anywhere.
One of our favorite spots to “camp” is this little dead end right outside our favorite coffeeshop in Port Townsend, Washington. If it’s legal to park your car on the street overnight, it’s generally legal to sleep in it. And if you’ve got a van with curtains, even if it weren’t legal, who’s to know? No reservations required, no fees paid.
Not only are we saving on the hotel room, but, because our van has a fridge, stove and sink, we don’t have to pay restaurant prices for meals. We can shop at the local grocery stores (or farmers markets), prepare our own foods as we go and sure, shell out a few bucks for a pour over Loop d’Loop dark roast from Better Living Through Coffee, but that’s part of living life like the locals.
True, dry camping does require a van (I think you’d have less luck pitching a tent in one of those parking spaces). While those don’t come cheap (our 2004 Roadtrek set us back about $30,000), there are cheaper vans than ours, and they do hold their value over time, if cared for. I don’t know if we could make the argument that we save enough in hotel costs to flat out make up the purchase price, but when you consider the eventual resale value if they’re maintained (and the mileage doesn’t get too crazy), it’s not a bad investment.
More importantly: the van motivates us to do things and go places we simply couldn’t or wouldn’t otherwise. You can’t put a price on that.
Airbnb Our House
This is the clincher. We have a mother-in-law apartment in our basement that we rent out on Airbnb for extra cash, but whenever we travel for more than a week or so, we rent out our main house, as well.
I know what you’re going to ask, because everyone asks: aren’t we worried that someone is going to steal our stuff? Do we hide all our personal possessions in a locked closet?
No and no. First off, we don’t have a lot of valuable “things”. The paintings on the walls are by our friends. The couch is lovely, but I don’t see someone renting an Airbnb and a moving truck to make off with it. We don’t own a TV.
We pack our hanging clothing into a single closet and box some of our drawers away so the guests will have room to unpack, and Michelle replaces some of our pots, pans and cutting boards with a “guest” set to keep our own gluten-free, but that’s it. And to date, it hasn’t been an issue. Our guests have been respectful and appreciate of the fact that they are staying in our home. My biggest beef is that one set of guests (a film-making crew from England, in Seattle to work on a documentary) apparently invited some of our neighbors over and made better friends with them than we had.
Financially, it’s a wonder: a three-bedroom house in Seattle in the summer averages over $400 / night on Airbnb. We charge a bit less than that, because we’d rather maximize our overall income than maximize our per-rented night average, but even so, that’s quite a bit more than we’re spending when we travel, whether we’re renting an apartment in Amsterdam in July (around $175 / night) or boondocking in our camper van ($0 / night).
This option isn’t universally accessible: we’re lucky in that we have a good location in a city that gets visitors. It’s much more difficult to get renters if you’re far from the tourist centers, but if you’re curious if this would work for you, just try this simple experiment: search Airbnb for you area, but leave the dates blank. Then, click on rentals that appear and peek at their calendar. If the rentals of similar size in your area tend to get booked in the season that you’re thinking of traveling, good bet that you could earn the same as those places are charging.