This post is part of our Ask an Expert series, where we spotlight avid travelers and ask them to share tips, tricks and travel hacks for exploring the world—with a few tales from the road in between.
Michelle Schroeder-Gardner runs the personal finance blog Making Sense of Cents, where she helps readers to learn about saving money, generating extra income, and reaching their goals. Michelle and her husband (and their two dogs!) currently travel full-time in an RV. They sold their house last year and are happier than ever. We asked her to tell us about what it’s like to live in a home on wheels, why she prefers vacation rentals over hotel rooms and how she makes big adventures happen on a tight budget.
Hails From: St. Charles, Missouri
Never Leaves Home Without: My cell phone and laptop (I’m a digital nomad!)
Last Seen: Jeeping through Utah
Where To Next: “Home” for the holidays
As a personal finance blogger and full-time traveler, you obviously know a thing or two about sticking to a budget on the road. In your opinion, what’s the biggest budget mistake travelers make—and how can it be avoided?
The biggest mistake travelers make is that they assume that all traveling must be expensive. And because of that, they make travel plans that are way over budget because they believe that expensive is the only way to go. Don’t settle on a pricey option when, with a little research, you can find something more affordable.
We know you’re a big believer in frugal fun. How do you take advantage of the awesome attractions each new destination has to offer without overspending?
We’re big outdoor lovers, so nearly everything we do only consists of the cost of gas to get there. We have everything else—rock climbing gear, an overland vehicle, bikes for every occasion, a paddle board, etc. There are so many things to do for free! I highly recommend getting an annual national parks pass if you plan on traveling in the United States, as it’s only $80 (or less) and is a great value.
When you moved into a 33-foot RV and hit the road a year ago, you wrote about learning to live minimally in a small space. What’s your best tip for packing smart and traveling light (whether you’re jetting off for vacation or moving into a house on wheels)?
My best tip for traveling light is to make a list of what you actually need. The average household has around 300,000 items, and you definitely don’t need to bring all of those with you when you’re traveling or trying to live small. When you make a list of what you actually need, it will help you to realize what you should bring so that you can pack smart and travel light.
We’re dying to know: What’s the strangest thing about calling an RV home-sweet-home?
It would probably be the weird common questions that we’re asked about RVing! For some reason, whenever we tell someone that we RV full-time, the first questions are 1) “How do you get your mail?” and 2) “Where do you use the bathroom?” We’re almost never asked about where we’ve traveled to or what our favorite places are—everyone just wants to know how we use the bathroom, haha!
TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals features a pretty awesome selection of tiny homes and glamping rentals from all over the world—like micro cabins, modern yurts and mini houseboats. Which of these pint-sized properties would you be most likely to rent?
My husband and I have been thinking about renting a mini houseboat soon, so that’s what I would be interested in! We plan on sailing full-time after we are done RVing, so a houseboat sounds like a fun way to get our dogs used to it. Plus, it would be a ton of fun either way!
Before you moved into an RV, you wrote that you prefer to stay in a vacation rental instead of a hotel room when you travel. Why are vacation rentals a better fit for you?
Yes, we love vacation rentals and we still use them occasionally, such as when we make a quick trip home. We like vacation rentals because there is much more room, which is great—especially since we have two dogs. We also enjoy having a yard for them to run in.
What’s the most thoughtful thing a rental host has ever done for you?
We’ve had rental hosts leave bottles of wine for us, beer, some snacks, and more. Our hosts have always been great!
You’ve visited a lot of national parks in the past year, from Yellowstone to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Which one was your favorite? Do you have plans to hit all 59 in the future?
Yes, we definitely want to go to all of the national parks! I don’t know if we have an absolute favorite right now; we absolutely love every single one that we’ve been to! In the past year, we’ve been to Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Saguaro National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and a few others.
Tell us about one experience you’ve checked off your travel bucket list this year and one experience you’re hoping to have in 2017.
Next year, we’re hoping to finally get to Yosemite National Park. Surprisingly, we have not been there yet! One thing I checked off my travel bucket list this year is that I finally hiked my very first 14er (a mountain that is over 14,000 feet). It was tough but well worth it—plus we brought our dogs with us!
How do you choose your next destination?
Choosing the next destination is hard because there are so many great places to visit. We always try to follow the weather; we go wherever the weather is good and make stops along the way.
Want to read more about Michelle’s ultimate RV road trip? Follow all of her adventures on Making Sense of Cents. Planning your own getaway? No matter where you’re headed, make the trip more affordable by booking one of the 800,000+ properties available on TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals.