Gap Year Spending Month 0 – $1,552.62

As Becky and I travel around the country (and possibly beyond) during our gap year adventure, I plan to track every dollar we spend and share that information here on Money Metagame.  While we haven’t completed a full month on the road yet, I think it’s important to first take a look at the money we spent preparing for the trip.

While we tried to keep our pre-trip spending under control, there were a few necessary items to take care of before we started.  Let’s take a look at what those expenses in detail:

Additional Camping Gear – $190.58

We already owned a moderate amount of camping gear, including a tent and sleeping bags (mostly thanks to that 24 race I ran), but still needed to fill out a few items for a baseline set of gear.

Our goal was to have just enough gear that we could get away with camping somewhere that we could drive the car up to.  We stayed on the cheaper end of the spectrum (but well rated), which in the camping gear world equates to heavy.  That means we won’t be hauling it any kind of distance, but that’s by choice.

There might be something essential we’re still missing (we’re kind of new at this camping thing), but we can hopefully fill in any gaps on the road!

Here’s the gear we already owned prior to the gap year:

Here’s the additional gear we bought before starting our trip (prices are what we paid, they may have changed since):

With all of this camping gear and our vehicle of choice being a Mazda 3 hatchback, we needed a little additional storage for the road trip.

Roof Rack and Car Top Box – $1,082.56

After looking at a few different boxes, we settled on a Large Thule box and purchased it and the mounting gear from a local store.  We opted to install it ourselves (to save a couple hundred dollars) and after a couple of hiccups got everything solidly in place.

The box is surprisingly roomy and we were able to fit the entirety of our camping gear and more inside of it.

Traveling Mailbox – $200

As I mentioned previously, we are using a service called Traveling Mailbox in order to receive mail without being at a physical address.  We chose a “premium” address in Seattle as opposed to the default choice of North Carolina.

By prepaying the entire year up front, we got 2 months free, so the final cost came out to $199 or ~$16.58/month.  This includes receiving up to 40 envelopes and scanning up to 35 pages each month.  Additional envelopes are 10 cents each while additional page scans are 50 cents each.  I’m pretty sure we’ll stay under those numbers in most months because we converted everything possible to paperless, but we will find out as we go.

There is also an additional fee to forward any mail to us, so we will have to pay that as well if we need anything sent to us.

Traveling Mailbox was $199 for the year and the extra $1 (to make it an even $200) came from USPS for filling out a change of address form.  While we manually went through every account we could think of in order to have mail sent to our new address, this should catch anything we missed.

Storage Unit and Boxes – $68.48

After comparing prices across Seattle and the surrounding area, we ended up renting out a 5ft x 5ft unit from a local Public Storage at a rate of $46/month.  This unit will hold everything we didn’t want to get rid of, but also didn’t want to take with us on the trip.  We liquidated all of our big furniture items so we could get a smaller unit, but we couldn’t find a way around storing at least something.

The first month’s cost and additional fees totaled up to $56.11 (despite them advertising the “first month for $1”) and future months will show up in their respective spending reports.

We also spent $12.37 on boxes, tape, and packing supplies to get everything organized for easier transport and storage.

Crappy Car Phone Mount – $11

The last purchase we made prior to February for this gap year road trip was a phone mount, but it turned out to be pretty terrible.  At least we got it for half-price from a Brookstone going out of business sale, but it’s currently sitting in a trash can off of some interstate because it wouldn’t go more than an hour or so before launching the phone off.

We’re back to using a mount that we previously owned and it’s working much better.

Total Pre-Trip Expenses – $1,552.62

Our goal for starting this trip was to maximize the items we already had, start cheap, and upgrade/purchase on the road as necessary and I think we did a pretty good job.

It was very tempting to go on a pre-trip shopping spree, especially to upgrade some of our older existing items like backpacks and luggage.  There are also a ton of cool camping “gadgets” I’d love to play around with, but they probably aren’t necessary.  We even discussed the idea of purchasing a better “road trip vehicle” like an SUV, Van, or even an RV of some kind.

As this was a brand new experience for us, we eventually settled on just starting with what we had and adjusting on the road.  Our mantra was: Anything we can purchase in Seattle before the trip can also be purchased everywhere else in the US as we go.

The same line of thinking can also apply whenever you start a new hobby.  Thinking about becoming a runner?  Just throw on your lightest pair of existing clothes and go do it!  Find out what works and what doesn’t, then upgrade the necessary aspects if you decide to stick with it.

Too many people I’ve observed go crazy with gear, clothes, books, and more when they first try something new and most of it goes completely unused months later.

I’m not sure if I originally learned about this idea from the business startup world, but both a book, “The $100 Startup“, and everything Alan Donegan is doing with pop-up business school follow the same principle: Just start and adjust as you go.

Future Months – ?

One of the big question marks going into this trip is how much it is going to cost us.  We can look at our past expenses for a very different lifestyle in Seattle and adjust, but that requires a ton of assumptions about how this trip will go.

We did recently sign tenants to rent out our townhouse in Seattle!  That should cover the mortgage and other home related expenses for the next year, so we don’t have to worry about that for now.

Our food and entertainment expenses will probably be up a little bit, but shopping should fall unless something significant breaks on the road.  The mortgage we were previously paying will be replaced by a bunch of hotel and other lodging expenses, but hopefully using points strategically will help keep that monthly total down.

We’ll certainly be spending more on gas and parking compared to before, but we no longer have to worry about paying utility bills.

It will be interesting to see how these things balance out as we go, but there is less than a week to go before I can crunch the February numbers!  A lot of hotel point usage means our lodging will be minimal this month, but I haven’t added anything else up yet.  Stay tuned for regular monthly spending reports throughout our trip.

10 thoughts to “Gap Year Spending Month 0 – $1,552.62”

  1. One thing I didn’t see listed, though this isn’t technically “camping gear, is a portable battery charger for your phones. If you decide to park the car while camping for any number of days, you’ll want a way to charge your phones. I also think you probably aren’t going to be camping where it’s really cold, but an electric blanket has been an absolutely wonderful purchase for camping this winter. Obviously only works in campgrounds with power though.

    1. Good call! We do have a portable charger that we use all the time, but I didn’t think to include it as “camping gear”. We do have the car outlet inverter listed about that we can use to charge anything, plus we have a couple standard USB car chargers as well I didn’t mention.

      We do plan to camping in warm weather if we can help it, but the electric blanket is an interesting idea.


  2. “Too many people I’ve observed go crazy with gear, clothes, books, and more when they first try something new and most of it goes completely unused months later.” True Life: I am a recovering crazy gear person. Thanks for posting about how to make do with what you have and buying smart vs. going nuts in REI.

    The traveling mailbox sounds like a neat service. When I went abroad for 6 months I rerouted my mail to my parents. I am sure they would have much preferred this type of approach. 🙂

    Looking forward to seeing how your gear / services list evolves as you get further into the trip! Happy travels!

    1. Thanks for reading Allyson! I’ll be sure to let everyone know if we add/drop/change any of the gear that we’re using as we go.

      I wonder if I should write a post just listing out everything we have with us…

    1. Haha, I was debating between that and something like “Pre-Trip”. It was probably the programmer brain that decided on month 0 🙂

  3. How do I sign up to receive coupons from Meijer in my mailbox??? My daughter gets coupons in her mailbox from Meijer and I would like to get some also. thanks

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