House Hacking for Free Vacations!

In 10 days, Adam and I, with our 5 kids embark on an almost 10 week road trip during which we will visit over 10 National Parks! It’s a crazy trip for sure. It’s something I have always dreamed of doing with my kids (even before we had kids!). But for the first time we are house hacking to do a long trip for free!

House Hacking for Free Vacations!

What we are doing

The first time we traveled for 6 weeks and we found a house sitter to watch our home. Last year when we traveled for 4 weeks, family was able to keep an eye on our place. This time we decided to rent out our home short term! With local zoning laws we are able to rent it out as a normal month to month rental. I have know people to sublet rentals or post places on Airbnb.

The amount we are bringing in will pay for 100% of our travel costs.

Who is looking

Adam was a bit nervous about finding a good renter! We are renting out our home fully furnished with our stuff so it felt different than finding people for our rentals. We have a strong rental market where we live and, especially in the summer, the demand for housing is high.

But even if you don’t live in a vacation destination, there are lots of people looking for short term, fully furnished rentals.

We posted our home on craigslist instead of Airbnb for a few reasons (partly because we wanted to be able to get to know the people). In 4 days, 4 awesome people had applied!

What kind of people are looking:

  • People relocating to the area who want to buy in a few months and need time to search for and close on a home.
  • People in the process of building a house. They have sold their current home and the new home isn’t finished yet.
  • People who work places short term. Especially common with larger companies who bring in people for 2-6 weeks or medical professionals who come for 3 months at a time. Renting a home is more comfortable and cheaper than a hotel room.

How we priced our home

I searched craigslist and Airbnb to see what the going rate was for fully furnished homes by the month. Then I priced it below that. I could have priced it 20-50% higher but was hoping for a better pool of applicants rather than top dollar. I also wasn’t willing to break it up into smaller time frames. There was a set price for the whole time we were gone if they used the whole time or not.

We settled on $2500 plus a deposit for the two months. Utilities are included but the renter has to maintain the yard or pay for upkeep. We offered extra days at the end which will be an additional cost.

Keeping our vacation costs low

Other than gas and campsites, our expenses traveling look almost identical to life back home. We use our National Park Pass and Museum pass which provides 95% of our entertainment. We eat out about the same as back home and do a similar amount of paid fun things.ย  This trip will consist of about a dozen National Parks so our days will be filled with new natural wonders, all day hiking, playing and about a dozen museums. Our museum pass will get our whole family into about 30 science museums for our one time $70 cost along our trip, but we might only go to about 12.

Our trip overview

I’m so darn excited for this trip! It’s a long held dream. And I just love National Parks and forrests. Almost all of these will be new to me: amazing things I’ve never seen or experienced. There is something about wandering around outdoors adventuring all day that feels like that is where I belong. All my best ideas happen there. And I feel more like myself. Plus those are my favorite times as a parent. Our kids are so happy and the most themselves as well.

Here is our tentative plan:

Salt Lake City. Arches National Park. Canyonlands National Park. Bryce. Zion National Park. Marble Canyon. Grand Canyon National Park. Flagstaff. Joshua Tree National Park. Disney (maybe? I’m not super excited but everyone else seems to be!). San Diego. Sequoia National Forrest. Kings Canyon National Forrest. Yosemite National Park. Point Reyes National Seashore. Redwoods. Crator Lake. Oregon coast line. Portland. Seattle area. Boise. Then home sweet home!

Travel Budget:

The most basic budget for our trip is this:

Camp spots 60 days (plus some nights with friends) x $30 a night (National Parks or military bases) = $1800

About 4,500 miles @ 20 miles a gallon (thanks pop-up camper!) @ $3 a gallon = $675

National Park Pass: Free with our 4th grader!

Museum Pass: $70

Total Trip: $2545

The extra days we rent our house will cover the other $45, plus that is less than what we would normally budget for gas. Now if we add one day at Disney, that would add an extra $1000. Although we normally set up our pop-up camper for guests and this year might rent it to tourists, which would easily cover our Disney splurge.

Of course, this is a trip I would happily pay for out of pocket! We have set up our whole life and created financial freedom just to make things like this possible. But the fact that it won’t cost us much extra is a nice bonus.

It can be a scary idea to rent out your home, but we were able to email and Skype with the person renting our home and meet her a few times in person. Honestly, I think she will do a better job than the house sitter we used before. She is thrilled to have a nice, affordable place to stay and I’m happy to have our camping costs covered.

House hacking for vacations can be a great solution for a lot of people who either want to travel for free or simply want extra travel money. We had budgeted $4,000 for this trip, and now that all our basic costs are covered we might splurge a bit more than normal or just come home and use that money else where.


For Conversation:

Have you ever rented out your home or hired a house sitter?

Any thing we need to visit along our itinerary?!?


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44 thoughts on “House Hacking for Free Vacations!

  1. Curious, do you have a property manager for when you’re gone? I can’t imagine something going wrong with my house while I’m away and can’t do anything about it.

    • We don’t have a property manager for our house or rentals. But we have family near by to call if we don’t have cell phone service. And we have a list of people we have hired and can fix most things that could need fixing. The nice thing about renting out our home is that someone will be there to see if something happens and can call us or my family to make sure it’s taken care of. Very few property managers visit properties, they simply call people to fix the problems. And that isn’t too hard for us to do while we travel.

        • It’s actually a really common concern with all sorts of rentals! But once people realize what property managers actually do they can decide if they are able to do that. It’s 85% finding good applicants and managing payments. Then 15% calling and scheduling maintenance people. There is a misconception that they have “in-house” maintenance people. They simply call painters, plumbers, furnace people, handy men, and roto ruter. Because we have owned our places for 5 years, we have relationships with all those people and have their phone numbers in our phone. No google needed. =)

  2. Your trip sounds like its going to be amazing!!!

    The idea of renting out my house scare the **** out of me. Sure the money would be nice. But coming home to who-knows-what does not seem ideal. I like your approach to screen for the best renters to mitigate the risk.

    This is really something to think about though if I ever take an extended trip. Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh, my husband was SUPER freaked out. Which is funny because we had a house sitter that we didn’t know 2 years ago. But he was semi convinced that all his tools would be stolen. =) I think being able to really screen people and find someone we were comfortable with and felt like they would care for our home was really helpful. I do know people who Airbnb their place when they leave for a 4 day weekend and it pays for tickets to Vegas. I think it might be too much hassle if it was less than $300 for us.

  3. Have a fantastic time, my friend!
    You’ve worked hard…you deserve it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll be waiting my turn to see more of our beautiful country…I’m 48 and still haven’t seen the Grand Canyon! One day soon…
    In the meantime, I’ll travel to Switzerland with my Honey to see his family this summer when my daughter has recuperated… so I’m not complaining. <3
    Great idea with your place. I hope the renting process goes smoothly and you all relax and enjoy each other!!

  4. This is awesome! It’s really proof that I need to get over a lot of my home ownership neuroses (scratch-free hardwood floors aren’t really the badge of honor that I wear them as). I love how the flexibility of thinking is really setting you up for more financial success while you have an awesome adventure!

    • Part of my motivation for putting in cheap laminate floors was I KNEW I would stress over hardwoods! =) Even if we build a “nice” home one day I might still do cheap flooring so I don’t become a jerk about my floors (I know my weakness!). It’s funny you mention “flexible thinking” because I actually have a video in one of my courses on the “art of flexible thinking”. I think it’s something we can learn and practice just like any other skill. =) I love the quote from Alice in Wonderland where the Queen of Hearts tells Alice she practices thinking 6 impossible things a day, sometimes before breakfast.

  5. We’ve rented out a room in our home before (AirBnb) and my husband was very uncomfortable, but the interview process is a great suggestion! I’m curious how with your pop-up camper you rent it out during the year… is there a bathroom?

    • It’s is a bit uncomfortable! We will be moving some of our tax and personal info to my parents home while we are gone. But being able to Skype and meet in person and show her around the home helped a lot. And I made it clear in the post that because this was our home and our furniture I would be picky. Maybe it scared off anyone looking for a place to sell drug out of for a few months. =)

  6. Your trip sounds amazing Jillian, do you have to purchase additional home insurance when renting your home out for short period of time?

    • I might ask my insurance guy about it. We are doing an extra $500 deposit for an damage, excessive utility usage (If one person uses more than 7, I’ll call it excessive. =) ) or lawn care. Anything bigger than that, our insurance would cover.

  7. This is seriously one of the most interesting and truly informative posts I’ve read in a long time. I have literally never considered renting my home out for any length of time, but now it’s on my brain. I’ve talked for a long time about taking our kids overseas for a summer, to expose them to a different culture and language. That always seemed like a pipe dream until now. This is what I love about blogs – it’s like having the biggest, best conversation with our in-the-know girlfriends all at once. Thank you!

    • Ideas are amazing that way. Sometimes we just need a spark to start a fire. Then the ball gets rolling. Renting out your house over the summer could add a good deal of funds for your trip. Adding in some credit card travel points for flights might help as well. Finding some affordable housing over there like airbnb. And rather quickly things we didn’t think were possible become much more so. I started really dreaming and budgeting for this trip 5 years ago and planned for $20k-30k! (Although that included the camper which we bought a we years ago for $4k)

      • I just told my husband about your post this morning. We plan to be gone this summer a bit, and I think we may try to rent this house out. We’re military and there are tons of military moving over the summer. How great would it be to have some of them stay here, getting a house instead of a hotel room. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • That’s a great idea! As part of a military family that did a lot of hotel stays while processing in and out of bases, a house would be much, much better. =)

  8. This is a great article, and coincidentally something that we have been thinking about for when we take our next mini-retirement. Do you take down photos, or other personal items to make it more rental-y? Or just pack up breakable things? Do you lock anything up? We were able to rent out house once for a year to friends who were working at our local college for a year. The timing was perfect.

    • The only thing we are moving out of the house are a personal paperwork like tax stuff. But partly that is because we have 5 little kids, so I doubt an adult would do more damage then our kids do! I had thought about moving more things out, but after I met the lady renting out place, it seems unnecessary. I didn’t do anything to make it more rental-y other than I will move some of the kids stuff out of her way, like the high chair. =) I’ll probably put away most of our coats and shoes that we don’t take.

      One of the great things about our two year journey towards minimalism is that is made this really easy. Two years ago it would have been another story. There simply wasn’t room in our home for another person. Now I have empty closets, shelves and space.

  9. Holy smokes, that’s gonna be epic!! My first ever time on an airplane was a trip from Baltimore to Los Angeles and me and a buddy rented a car and drove to many of those parks plus a few more. It made me appreciate how big and beautiful our country really is.

    Great job on the hacking too! We expect great pics, nothing less ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • I’ll do my best with the pictures! I’m excited at the diversity of the parks we are visiting. From deserts, to sequoia forests, sandy and rocky beaches, and redwoods.

  10. I am so excited for you to be doing this! I love your itinerary and can’t wait to hear about some of the things you end up doing. While Disney doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of your activities I am a HUGE Disney fan as well and if it is a do now or not ever I say go for it! I had an annual pass for several years while I went to UCLA and lived in the area after and it truly was my happy place as much as getting out into the woods does.
    PS – I continue to fund my “big adventure” account after taking your course and I’m doing my own practice projects along the way.

    • I was on the fence about Disney. But we are literally staying a few miles a way. And Adam went a few times as a kid and really loved it. Our kids are 2-10 right now, so if we are going to do it, now is probably a good time. =)

      And I’m so excited for your own big adventure but the smaller adventures are perfect for now. =)

  11. Sounds like you guys have an incredible trip planned at a very reasonable cost! What a cool idea to rent out your house while you’re gone to cover your expenses. I’d love to go on a long roadtrip during the summer in the US, but hadn’t thought about renting the house out as an option. Seems like it would take some initial getting used to, but can pay big dividends.

    • It was a big hurdle for us to cross, but now that we have tested it out, I’m really excited about the doors it’ll open up. It’s such an easy way for a lot of people to really bulk up their travel budget or make trips possible that might not be otherwise. By clearing a lot of the clutter and excess out of our home the last 2 years, it makes it really simple to get it ready for a renter.

  12. You’ll need to budget more $$ for gas in California. It is nearly $4.00/gallon here right now, and it usually goes up in the summer due to special gas formulas that reduce emissions.

    • Yeah, that was just a rough average. Gas here right now is $2.69 a gallon. We will also be staying on a few military bases and they tend to have lower prices. I had originally planned 6k for the trip, then 4k. So we have some wiggle room. As long as we come in below 6k, I’ll be happy. =)

  13. I love Arches National Park. It’s so beautiful! I find it funny that a day at Disney is almost as much as half of the cost of the rest of your trip. That dang mouse hits the wallet hard. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’d love to hear a follow up post when you get back about your experience renting out the house and if you’d do it again.

    • Yeah, crazy Disney! The fact it would be 50% of our total budget was weird to me. I think if we were spending 20k and Disney was an extra thousand, it wouldn’t have felt as weird. But the kids will love it. Having such an affordable trip and extra income coming in just means I don’t have to worry about dropping a few extra thousand if we want. =)

  14. Your trip is going to be amazing even without house hacking covering 100% of the basic costs. Color me green with envy. Mrs. G and I always wanted to go to Crater Lake. Please take pictures.

    • I’m super excited about it all. Almost every spot on this list will be new to me! And I totally would have paid 10k for this trip. =) Anything under that is a win. =)

  15. Looks like an amazing trip. I would recommend doing Little Wild House Canyon and Goblin Valley if you can squeeze it in. Slot canyons are amazing with little kids.

  16. That sounds like an amazing trip!!

    I think I’m in the class of people that would be uncomfortable with others living in my space, but perhaps I’m a tad germophobic.

    I’m curious if you feel like having your blog makes you more likely to look for money-saving hacks like this? It’s clear that you have long worked hard at the financial aspect of things, but I could also see where blogging about it would make you think about even more great ideas like renting out your house while you travel.

    • It’s funny, part of the reason I like camping is because hotel rooms freak me the heck out! I can handle sleeping on the same surface that a stranger or two has used, but not 1000! =)

      And I’m not sure if blogging helps the creative frugal juices. But I’m sure it doesn’t hurt!

  17. Oh, and some day you need to plan a trip that includes White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico… but not a summer trip for those places.

    • So I thought about this for a bit. I totally understand where your coming from because I would have probably felt the same a few years ago. I was trying to figure out what changed for me and it might be two things. First, blogging. I feel like all my most honest, revealing and personal things are here. There is very little that someone would learn from my dished, clothes, shampoo brand or kids toys that isn’t on this site. After putting so much online, having someone see my cup collection is downright boring.

      The second thing that has changes is my growing pursuit of minimalism. Not just that we have less stuff, but my relationship with my stuff changed. I see it more as things I bought and things I can replace. Stuff became just stuff. And less carriers of my memories, nostalgia or extensions of myself. There are maybe 10 items that if they went missing or broke, I would actually feel sad about. And even those things only reveal something about me if I tell the stories.

      So I totally get it! And to some degree that space feels like home. But as trite as it sounds, home is where my family is. =)

  18. If you’re going to San Diego, take an extra day and go to Mexico! Excellent shopping! So much less expensive than the States!