Living a life on the road seems tempting for people who don’t want to be tied to one place. Once you already have your own camper van, there’s the question that usually arises: “How much does van life cost?” The experts of BadCredify know the answer! Let’s take a look at the main van life expenses and find out what sum you need to get ready for on a monthly basis.
Owning a van means that you can avoid one of the lifetime’s biggest expenses – house purchase. However, there are still multiple surprise costs you need to be aware of. Here are the major monthly expenses van lifers face.
As you probably guessed, your gas costs will mostly depend on gas prices, your vehicle’s fuel consumption, and how much you drive. The best part of it is that you can choose and customize gas expenses. For example, if you spend a whole month within one state, your gas costs will hardly exceed a few hundred dollars. At the same time, if you start a cross-country road trip with daily driving over long distances, the amount can exceed $1,000. On average, van lifers spend between $200 and $800 to cover fuel costs.
Fuel for cooking and heating is another monthly expense that some novice van lifers often overlook. Besides buying gas for driving, you also need to fill your propane tank. The cost fluctuates by state and also depends on how much you cook and where you travel. On average, travelers spend about $40 monthly to fill a 12lb on-board propane tank.
This expense category varies widely depending on how much you eat, how likely you are to cook or eat out, and your grocery shop location. On average, an individual can spend between $250 and $800 on food per month.
Also, keep in mind that less food storage space will lead to more frequent shop visits and hold you back from buying in bulk. This means that you can’t save money by purchasing food in larger quantities.
Although you may find free campgrounds in public places, paid ones offer more amenities and often provide a convenient location for the best trails. It can matter if you’re going to explore a national park. However, paid campsites also have more rules regarding pets and usually offer less privacy. If you plan to stay for a night in a paid RV park, get ready to pay between $15 and $30 per night. This way, your monthly campground fee may be as high as $900.
When it comes to a van, it’s recommended to choose an insurance policy with a more comprehensive level of protection. This is because your basic coverage typically doesn’t include the theft, loss, or damage of anything inside your van. This way, auto insurance may cost you anywhere between $100 and $200 per month.
Most van lifers use their phone data for the Internet. This way, it’s better to choose a plan with unlimited data, which is typically more expensive. Depending on the provider and plan you choose, your phone bills may be about $30 to $100 per month.
Having a decent level of health insurance is crucial when you live a van life due to its unpredictability. The exact monthly premiums may vary widely based on your plan, coverage, age, and home state. On average, you can expect to pay between $100 and $500 per month. Van owners with low income can also consider applying for Medicaid, while those who are over the age of 65 can take advantage of Medicare.
Many van lifers prefer to buy gym memberships in order to shower on the road. This often helps if you want to save money and stay in free campsites with limited access to facilities. As van lifers usually don’t want to be tied to certain time frames, they often choose 24 Hour Fitness. The membership cost starts at $20 per month per person. Although it’s an optional expense, it still brings more comfort to your van life.
This category includes measures you need to take to keep your van running and prevent possible breakdowns. You can also add the cost of repairing the RV if it suddenly breaks down on the road. Of course, the cost depends on the van’s make and model, as well as its year. For example, older RVs come with cheaper van maintenance than new ones. Additionally, it may be easier for you to find parts for them. Sprinter van maintenance cost is usually quite high. You can expect to pay about $300 for an oil change. On average, annual van maintenance cost is about $500 to $1,000.
This category includes any other personal expenses that may arise in your van life. It may be anything, from buying cosmetics and getting a haircut to paying for entrance passes to national parks or attending other paid activities. The sum will vary widely based on your lifestyle and preferences. Just keep in mind that your own costs may fluctuate depending on the season.
Adding up the major expense categories mentioned above, we get the average cost of van life of $1,300 to $3,000. However, it’s recommended to leave room for unexpected emergencies and personal needs that may arise at any moment. Additionally, this sum doesn’t include start-up van life costs, which refers to van purchase of van conversion.
Although an RV itself can’t be included in van life expenses per month, it’s still the biggest upfront cost that needs to be considered. On average, a new camper van costs from $25,000 to $80,000, while high-end brand vehicles can be even up to $300,000. A used camper van can cost you $10,000 to $50,000. If a van purchase seems unrealistic for your current budget, you can also DIY van conversion for as low as $2,000 to $6,000.
Don’t forget about other costs associated with buying your own van. One of the expense categories that is often overlooked is taxes and registration. They may cost you about $500 to $1,000 annually. Plus, if you’re going to get the extended warranty (and we highly recommend you do this), get ready to fork out for a few thousand dollars per year.
Although vanlife can be less expensive than living in real estate, it comes with multiple additional expenses you don’t face while simply living in a house. The following van life tips can help you save money:
- Find free parking spots. By doing this, you can save up to $30 per night, which is nearly $900 monthly. Of course, free campsites usually offer fewer amenities, such as showers, toilets, potable water, picnic tables, and trash cans. However, you can purchase a gym membership or better equip your van. Some free options include residential neighborhoods, big box stores, Bureau of Land Management lands, or Forest Service lands. Just make sure to leave no trace;
- Shop wisely. Smart shopping is always a winning money-saving strategy. Plan your meals, search for sales, use coupons, and give preference to store brands. All these can reduce your grocery costs significantly;
- Cook at home. Eating out is always more expensive than cooking your own food. Thus, having the ability to cook on the road can potentially save you hundreds of dollars monthly. The same goes for coffee to go. Instead, consider making your own drink in a van and enjoy it with a relaxing view;
- Drink less alcohol. Having one cocktail may cost you about $10 to $20. Consider cutting off this expense category or at least save money by mixing your own cocktails or buying the booze at grocery stores;
- Be fuel efficient. Some fuel-efficiency strategies include maintaining the right pressure in your tires and driving conservatively. You should also plan your route to minimize driving distances;
- Search for free activities. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on entertainment to live a fulfilling life. In addition, you can always find free activities almost anywhere. Biking, hiking, or reading – the list is almost endless. Choose those you enjoy the most and alternate them with paid activities you really like to visit;
- Track your expenses. At first, living in a van can feel like the road trip of a lifetime. While it’s not far from the truth, we all tend to be wasteful when traveling. Aim to live a simple life and track the way you spend your money to avoid unnecessary spending and an overly lavish lifestyle.
Van living might be more affordable than renting or buying a house. However, it comes with many other monthly costs, such as fuel and vehicle maintenance. It also depends on your van and lifestyle.
Some popular options include the Ford Transit Camper, Ford E-350 Camper, Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4, Skoolie Camper Vans, and Overlanders. Everything depends on your budget, family size, and particular needs.
Living in a van is not prohibited in the US. However, some states may set certain restrictions. For example, California has laws that don’t allow people to sleep overnight in their vehicles.