A traveller's guide to surviving lockdown: managing food & finances
April 16, 2020 • Renee Nathan Helms
11 min read
It's strange but true, full time travel and life in lockdown have a lot in common, from living 24/7 with your family to coping with isolation when you're off grid. In part three, Renee and Nathan tackle the topic of food and finances, sharing what they've learned from living on the road and how it can help you out in either scenario.
I’ve said it repeatedly over the last few weeks. Never in my life have I been so glad to have money. Not lots of money, we’re far from rich. But enough. Enough money. Because these are difficult times for so many people financially, and right now if you still have an income, or enough savings to get by, then as far as I am concerned you are rich indeed.
Fortunately for us long term travel has taught us rather a lot about money. About earning it in different ways. About saving it. And about spending as little of it as possible, while still maintaining a decent lifestyle.
It’s also taught us about how to save money on food, and how to shop with limited space, but to still last a long period of time – like when you’re going outback travelling for three weeks and won’t have access to a supermarket, but still need to squeeze enough food into your camper trailer to last. And so we thought we would share some of the things we’ve learned, just in case they’re useful for you in these crazy times.
Money Money Money
We’ve always found that living on the road can be cheaper than living a regular life at home. But the main difference is that when on the road you tend to work a lot less, meaning even if there’s less money going out, there’s also less money coming in. And we’re finding that is the case at the moment.
Sure we’re spending less because we can’t go anywhere, we don’t need any fuel, all the shops are shut, and here in New Zealand we can’t even get a takeaway meal or coffee, or a bottle of vodka from the bottle shop. But as neither of us are currently working regular jobs we’re also earning a whole lot less, and we’re aware many people will have lost their earning capacity altogether.
So now is the time to start changing things up a little, and rethinking not only the way you’re spending, but also the way you’re earning.
Diversify your income
For us, travelling has taught us to diversify our income. We both have our regular professions that we still try to find work in as we travel, but over the years we’ve found other ways to earn money. We’ve become writers. We’ve cleaned toilets. We’ve flipped burgers and poured beers. We’ve been brand ambassadors. We’ve built fences, stripped wallpaper, and herded goats. And I'm currently pursuing a job teaching English online.
Now obviously not all of those are options right now but my point is don’t be afraid to try something new, and give things a go. If there’s no work in your current field right now, look at other options. Industries that traditionally rely on imported labour like agriculture and fruit picking will be looking for workers. As are in-demand services like grocery stores and delivery drivers. Or think about your other skills and start a side hustle. Can you draw? Consider selling custom drawings on Facebook Marketplace. Do you have a skill you can teach? Start online classes – cooking classes, fitness classes, art classes; the possibilities are endless. Think outside the box, and see if you can find a way to bring in those extra $$’s.
Check out your entitlements
Don’t be afraid to look into government entitlements. Yes, I know it can be a minefield to navigate, but chances are if your income has dropped or dried up altogether there will be something you can claim to help you get by. For us in New Zealand Nathan has been eligible for a wage subsidy, and just by updating our income estimate online to reflect our current decreased earnings we’re getting a small extra amount per week in family tax credits. Every little bit helps.
Change up your living situation
One of the biggest ways you can save money longer term (and lets face it, this current financial crisis is going to potentially go on for quite some time) is not only to diversify your income, but also your living situation. If for example you’re having trouble paying your mortgage or rent, consider renting out a room. There are lots of travellers still stuck in New Zealand looking for long term options, and there will be plenty of people who also want to decrease their expenses by moving from renting a whole house, to sharing with others.
You could consider moving in with family to decrease expenses and support each other through this social distancing period. Or perhaps change things up altogether and utilise that caravan you have sitting around to camp out on a friend's property, or let a friend camp on yours for a small fee. Obviously during lockdown some of these options can be tricky, but it’s definitely something to consider for the future if it’s not an option currently. Now is the time to think outside the box.
Now is also a time to negotiate. If you genuinely can’t pay the rent, or the power bill, or the mortgage call your landlord/agent/bank/power company and let them know. Be honest, explain your situation, and see if you can work out a payment plan, or a mortgage holiday to tide you over. If you don’t ask, you probably won’t get.
Sort and sell
Got a shed full or stuff and some time on your hands? Now is the time to sort it all out, clean it up, and make some money off it. Selling of those items you no longer need or use (if local lockdown laws allow it) is a great way to bring in a little it of cash to tide you over. And for us when we first left to travel it was a great way to get rid of all our excess stuff and top up the travel fund at the same time.
Eat well, spend less
We’ve always been of the belief that it’s important to eat well, and we won’t compromise on health to save money, nor do we recommend it. But it’s definitely possible to eat well, while still spending less. We’ve been pretty open with our expenses on the road, sharing our costs regularly with our followers, and there’s always two categories where we find people are surprised to see our costs so low: alcohol, and food. So how do we keep these costs down?
Well the alcohol one is easy. Believe it or not, alcohol is a non-essential item (although parents stuck in lockdown with their children right now may disagree). We’re not saying to give up the booze altogether – we certainly haven’t. But if you’re going through a lot of dollars a week on alcohol then this is an easy one to save money. Either cut back your drinking to one or two drinks a few nights a week, or change what you’re drinking. Do you need those expensive premixes? Do you need that brand of wine? Can you get a cleanskin or (god forbid!) a cask?
Here in New Zealand we can’t get them anyway, but if you’re in Australia this might be an issue. Now I know we want to support small businesses as much as we can in this time, but you also need to support yourself. If money is tight, the takeaway night needs to go.
Eat less meat
I’m not saying you have to go full vegetarian, but topping up meals with veggies makes a huge difference. Tonight we’re having a beef stew in the slow cooker. I’ve managed to make it cheaper, but also larger by adding extra potatoes, capsicum, mushrooms, and even olives. Tomorrow it will be a chicken curry with pumpkin, carrot, zucchini, capsicum and mushrooms. By padding these meals out with veges not only do we save on the cost of meat, but we also tend to get enough to put in the freezer for a second family meal further down the track. And if you chop those veggies small enough, your kids won’t even notice.
Meal plan, but be flexible
Going to the supermarket with a plan means you not only need to go less often in these days of social distancing, but you are also much less likely to buy items you don’t need, and go over your budget. We’re used to having limited opportunities to shop when we’re travelling, so we often plan and shop for the next week or two (sometimes more when we’re going a bit more remote).
But in saying that, it’s also a good idea to be a bit flexible, particularly at the moment when some of the items you want to buy might not be available. Plus you also want the ability to change things up a bit if you find some items on your list that are on special or reduced to clear.
Watch your waste
Meal planning should also help prevent waste, but occasionally it can be a bit hard to get right. In order to make sure we don’t end up throwing food (& therefore money) away, we occasionally have a ‘picnic’ lunch where we grab everything out of the fridge/cupboard that needs eating and put it out on a big platter, then we all help ourselves to a miss-match picnic lunch.
Try new things
This is also a great opportunity to mix things up. Try some different recipes. Consider something you wouldn’t normally make. Maybe give the odd vegetarian meal a try – we made a lentil curry recently and it’s surprisingly become on of our family's favourite new go-to meals. Ask your friends for their favourite low cost but healthy meals, and use this extra time to try something new.
Unfortunately as people who are usually travelling we don’t have a backyard veggie patch to get us through this lockdown period. But fortunately for us, a lot of our neighbours do. In the last few days we’ve been given grapes, feijoas, figs, and mandarins from our neighbours that are surplus from their own backyard trees. And when we’re on the road we’re often lucky enough to be given fish that our fellow campers have caught. Which is just one of the reasons it always pays to be nice to the neighbours!
Please don’t be afraid to ask for help
This may be our most important point. We are well aware that sometimes all the tips in the world just aren’t going to cut it. Sometimes there simply isn’t going to be a way to make ends meet, and the money you have just isn’t going to be enough, through no fault at all of your own.
So if you find yourself heading towards that scenario then please, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Let your family and friends know what’s going on. You know if they needed your help then you’d be there for them in a heartbeat, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with accepting help too. And of course there are so many great charities out there offering food and support during these difficult times. Seek them out, utilise them. That is what they are there for; there is absolutely no shame in needing a little help.
If however, like us you’re one of those people who is fortunate to have enough in these times, and maybe even a little bit more, then consider reaching out to those people you know who may be struggling. Buy some groceries and drop them off anonymously at their door. Offer them your help if they need it. And consider giving a few dollars to one of the many charities or foodbanks offering their services right now. A little bit goes a long way, and if ever there was a time to help our fellow humans, it’s now.