Gap Year Spending Month 3 – $3,796.40

Three months into traveling on the road full time, we find ourselves leaving the amazing national parks of Utah and heading into the heart of Colorado to visit friends and family.

It’s hard to believe we’ve technically been homeless and unemployed for over three months, but we’re still loving our decision to take a Gap Year.  There are certainly pros and cons to living on the road, but we’ve managed to settle into a pretty solid routine bouncing between hotels and exploring amazing new places.

April was a month where we nerded out with friends at a nuclear test site, quadrupled our lifetime nights spent in a tent, and visited half a dozen national parks.  Let’s take a look at how much all of that fun cost us.

Lodging – $923.44

Living on the road continues to be cheaper than when we stayed put in Seattle, especially when you factor in utilities and other related expenses.

Lodging Breakdown by Nights:

  • Hotel nights booked with points – 13
    • See below for breakdown
  • Hotel nights booked with cash – 9
    • IHG – 5
    • La Quinta – 4  (4th night free benefit via the Citi Prestige card)
  • Camping nights booked with cash – 8

This month was an experiment in camping, especially considering we’ve never camped this long before.  Aside from a couple deflation incidents, it was amazing being walking distance from the rim of the Grand Canyon!

The paid nights with IHG were mostly for wrapping up Becky’s Q1 Accelerate promotion which essentially boiled down to earning ~40,000 points after paying for 5 nights.  The quarter rolled over as we enter May and we were both targeted for almost the exact same promotion!

I did pick up a copy of the new IHG Premier credit card, so I’ll be able to get the 4th night free on any future points stays.  That should help extend the value of all these points we’re earning even further.

Let’s take a closer look at the points we spent and earned this month:

Points Spent by Brand:

  • Hilton – 5 Nights – 40,000 points
  • Hyatt – 8 Nights – 40,000 points

It’s always exciting to find a category 1 Hyatt (5,000 points per night) near our destinations because it usually puts the “value” we’re getting per Hyatt point at over 2 cents each.

As for Hilton, we’ve had great luck finding category 2 properties (10k/night) hidden between the larger cities we’ve been visiting.  The hotels have been high quality despite the small towns and make for a great stop to break up our driving and relax.  Add in the 5th night free benefit on reward nights and the price can’t be beat.

Points Earned per Brand (excluding credit card spend/bonuses):

  • IHG – 42,957 earned
  • Hilton – 12,000 earned (Points Unlimited promotion)
  • Hyatt – 4,000 earned (Q1 2018 promotion)

If we continue spending our hotel points efficiently while also earning more via promotions and credit card bonuses, we should be able to maintain this monthly level of spending.  Lodging was one of the biggest unknowns going into the trip, but three months in and I’m beginning to feel confident with how it will play out over the year.

Transportation – $942.29

This month marked the furthest we’ve traveled in the car yet at over 3,000 miles.  Add in the unexpected new set of tires and our Transportation spending came in much higher than the previous two months.

  • Gasoline – $337.27
  • Car Maintenance – $585.02
  • Parking – $20

Gas is a necessity when road-tripping across the US, so no real surprises there, but the car maintenance was rather unexpected.

As I detailed in a previous post, our car ended up with a flat tire after driving out to the Grand Canyon thanks to a sharp rock.  The position of the puncture was such that it couldn’t be patched, so we drove to the closest town about an hour away to get a new set of tires.

It’s somewhat fortunate that we were going to be due for replacing the tires this year anyway, so it wasn’t a huge budget shock.  If anything, this event just accelerated our timeline.

Driving Stats:

  • Miles Traveled – 3,066
  • Gallons of Gas Purchased – 120
  • Average Miles per Gallon –  25.58
  • Average Price per Gallon – $2.81

Our miles per gallon stat has stayed very consistent since we started the trip and the price of gas has been pretty reasonable ever since we left the west coast.

I expect our miles traveled to drop off next month as we will be spending most of our time in Colorado, but it will probably pick back up again as we head east.

Grey is flying, Blue goes between the places we stayed the night, while Red is places we took day trips to

Food and Restaurants – $1,088.25

Once again, food comes in as our highest spending category of the month.

  • Eating Out – $956.27
  • Groceries – $131.98

Assuming 3 meals per day, this total breaks down to a cost of $6.05 per person per meal for the month of April.  There is plenty of room for cutting costs if we try to buy more of our meals from the grocery store instead of eating out, but we’ve found a balance we like.

An ideal day consists of getting a free breakfast from the hotel we’re staying at, snacking on items we purchased at the store around lunch, and then eating a meal out for dinner.  However, depending on where we are and our plans for the day, this rough outline can vary pretty heavily.

Entertainment – $415.23

  • Attractions – $180.21
    • Antelope Canyon (amazing!)
    • Meow Wolf (bizarre and awesome)
    • Bedrock (Route 66 attraction)
    • Four Corners (neat)
  • “Sports” – $101.46
    • Bouldering
    • Mini-golf/Go Karts/Laser Tag/Batting Cages
  • Bars and Alcohol – $113.66
  • MoviePass – $19.90
    • 9 different movies for less than $20!

Attractions were our biggest entertainment spending category this month with the amazing slot canyon, Antelope Canyon, topping the list.  The only way into the canyon is via official tour companies, so there’s not much room to save money here, but the cost of admission was well worth the experience!

Aside from the one’s listed above, the most amazing attractions this month were the 6 national parks we visited!  Because we bought the annual parks pass back in February, it no longer cost us anything to visit.  It’s by far one of the best purchases we’ve made on this trip!  Here’s the list of parks we visited this month:

  • Mesa Verde
  • Grand Canyon
  • Bryce
  • Zion
  • Arches
  • Canyonlands

Be sure to check out our instagram page if you want to see the highlights we found in each park!

In addition to the national parks we visited, we also attended a couple of free open house events to the Trinity Site and the Very Large Array (yes, that’s the name of the place) in New Mexico.  It was great to meet up with Tanja from Our Next Life as well as Carl and Mindy from 1500 Days for the event!

The “Sports” category contains the random fun stuff we do during our relaxation days between exploring parks and other attractions.

As for MoviePass, the days appear to be numbered as their parent company’s stock price is heading towards penny-stock status.  This probably isn’t surprising to anyone, especially considering we have each been paying them $10/month while spending ~$100/month on the provided debit card.  Regardless, we have plenty of other ways to save money on movies if they go under.  Until then, we’ll keep using the service until it buckles.

Everything Else – $427.19

All of the items that don’t fit nicely into the above categories:

  • Cell Phone Plan – $80
  • Storage Unit in Seattle – $46
  • Mail Forwarding – $15.99
  • Shopping – $106.59
  • Gifts – $15.96
  • Health and Personal Care – $40.65
  • Insurance – $122

Nothing too surprising here except for needing to purchase a new air mattress after ours deflated on us.  The rest was mostly standard monthly bills and some expected purchases like a new pair of shoes.

Looking Behind and Ahead

At the end of 3 months into in our gap year adventure, we’ve spent a total of $12,647.84.

Extrapolating the monthly spending forward, we are currently on pace to spend just shy of $46,000 for an entire 12 months on the road.  Not too bad considering the lowest we ever spent for a year in Seattle was over $68k!

Optimistically, the surprise $585 for new tires and a $122 insurance bill that covers a full 12 months means there was almost $700 worth of expenses this month that shouldn’t show up again.  Realistically, I seem to do this after reviewing every month and there is always a new “surprise” expense of some kind that brings things back to even.

I do at least remain optimistic about the month of May because our plans have us traveling fewer miles on the road as well as staying several nights with friends and family which will cut down our lodging expenses.

We won’t know for sure until the end of the month, so stay tuned!


11 thoughts on “Gap Year Spending Month 3 – $3,796.40

  1. How are y’all only paying $122 for a year’s worth of insurance? Also which mail forwarding service do you use for $16/month? I looked into one but they allowed 3rd party access and it wasn’t in their own facility and I don’t feel my mail would be safe in a location like that.

    Keep doing these, as I love the details. We’ll be “homeless” too starting on July 31st when we’ll travel around the US till we leave overseas after Xmas with family.

    1. Read through an older post and looks like you use Traveling Mailbox. Which plan do you have? I’m only seeing $15 and $25/month plans right now. How many envelopes does your plan include and how many do you normally receive in a month? $15 sounds good to me, but $25 may be too much, at least starting out when we will have little income.

      1. We are using Traveling Mailbox for our mail forwarding service and it’s been great. The only negative so far was that we accidentally had a package forwarded to the “mail-only” address (we weren’t expecting it) and they charged us a $16 fee as you see in the expenses above. They specify both a “mail” address and a “package” address which are separate and the fees are apparently pretty steep if you mess it up.

        We chose the Basic plan with a premium address in Seattle (any address not in North Carolina is “premium”) and prepaid the entire year for $200 or ~$17/month. That includes 40 envelopes (which we haven’t gotten close to yet) and 35 page scans (we’ve gotten close a couple months) per month.

        When we need something forwarded, they will send out a big envelope containing however many smaller envelopes you want and they send it to any address. We’ve done this twice and it cost <$5 each time. I would recommend Traveling Mailbox, but I haven't tried the alternatives myself, so keep that in mind.

    2. Hey Ken, looks like you focused in on a couple items I didn’t explain in detail! I didn’t specify what kind of insurance, but this one was a specific valuable personal property add-on that is basically there just to insure my wife’s wedding & engagement rings. For other types of insurance, we should pay ~$60 this year for health insurance because it’s heavily subsidized, car insurance is ~$900/year, umbrella is ~$160/year, and I’m probably forgetting another one.

      I’ll answer the mail forwarding question below.

      Congrats on planning your own traveling adventure! Hopefully you enjoy life on the road as much as we have 🙂

      1. Ok. So for at least our situation where we have part year income, it will likely be around $40k for the year for both of us combined. How do we deal with insurance since we’ll be in the country from Aug-Dec and then go overseas in January so it won’t apply to us anyways. I’ve been paying the ACA mandate fee since I’m self employed and don’t have insurance. Since we won’t technically have an income can we get heavily subsidized insurance once my wife leaves her job in June? You can also email me if you don’t want to clog up the comments.

        Is your virtual mailing address at something like a UPS store or does TM own the facility?

        1. At $40k combined for two people, you should be eligible for subsidies, so I would check the exchange in your state. If it’s like Washington’s, you should be able to “shop” for a plan without committing to anything just to get an idea of what’s available. I wrote more about it here:
          http://moneymetagame.com/fi/gap-year-planning-many-mediocre-health-insurance-options/

          After you’re overseas, it should be really cheap to get full coverage via travel health insurance.

          As for Traveling Mailbox, I believe they own the facility, but haven’t dug too deep into how they operate. Our address doesn’t match a UPS store or similar.

          1. Great, thanks for the link!

            Can you email me the facility address (minus your box number of course)? If you’re not comfortable doing this it’s no problem. We’d likely use a TX address since we already live in DFW and TX doesn’t collect state income tax which is nice come tax time.

          2. The only WA address I see for TM is

            1037 NE 65th St #81234
            Seattle, WA 98115

            That’s definitely a UPS store. Looks like the only facility they own is out of their house in Sanford, NC.

    1. We’re certainly more efficient at setting up and tearing down camp! The National Parks have been amazing, thanks for following along 🙂

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