How Much Does Vanlife Cost? | Full Time Travel

How much does Vanlife Cost?  People ask this question a lot.  Mostly those who are interested in living in a van and/or traveling full time at some point.  But it is an interesting topic to many because living in a van is perceived as a simpler way of life that costs less to live.  When you need less money to live, you don’t have to work as much. Which, in turn, means you have more time to do the things you love.  Like playing the Ukulele and watching the sunset!

vanlife cost

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This is one of the major reasons why we pursued living in our van full time.  Although we built a beautiful custom home that we loved, it quickly became painfully obvious how much we were spending on owning it, the things inside of it, and several cars. When you add in costs like property taxes, insurance, and maintenance, owning a home requires quite a bit of income.  A simpler life with less costs meant that we could work less, and maybe even retire early. It meant we could have less stressful jobs, and spend time pursuing our passions of travel and outdoor adventure.

vanlife cost

The Big Question: How Much?

The answer to “How much does Vanlife Cost?” is completely dependent on your quality of life.  Similar to living in a brick-and-mortar home, if you have expensive tastes, it will cost you more than someone who doesn’t.  We have simple needs and our idea of splurging is going out to eat once or twice a week.  Typically, we don’t buy things like new clothes very often.  We don’t go out for drinks and we generally cook at home. Therefore, vanlife costs us very little relative to how much we were spending while living in a house.

We want to break down the stigma around discussing money.  We all make it, we all need it, and we all spend it. Everyone wants to know how much stuff costs, but they’re too afraid to ask because it’s considered rude.  If there’s anything you want to know, just ask. We’re open about it. Our actual spending may be a good baseline for you to determine how much vanlife costs. If you’re curious about how to build a budget for vanlife, read our blog that is specifically dedicated to How to Build a Budget for Vanlife.

We’re going to share with you exactly how much we’ve spent while living in our van over the last year.  Not only does it help us estimate our budget for next year, but maybe it will help you budget for your own adventure!

travel insurance

Cost Categories

We’ve categorized our spending to the following categories:

  • Auto Maintenance: Oil changes, car parts or tools
  • Camping
  • Entertainment: Includes Nat’l Parks Pass, State Park Entry Fees, Tours, etc.
  • Food & Drink:  Going out to eat or drink
  • Gas
  • Groceries: Includes water purchases
  • Shopping:  Purchases for clothes, gear, camera equipment
  • Transportation:  Rideshare services or Ferry passage
  • Vanlife Gatherings
  • Bills & Utilities: Includes storage unit, cell phone, insurance, car registration, etc.

 

A few Caveats for Vanlife Cost

Due to the fact that we were out of the country for March, April and most of May, we will exclude those months from this analysis.  We will compare data from January, February, June, July, August, September, October and November.  January & November are months when we were stationary and can be compared to those when we traveled full time.

As we analyze how much vanlife costs, there are a few caveats.  The spend in the Bills & Utilities category has been averaged over the 11 months we are comparing.  Some months were much higher than others because of Vehicle Registration, Insurance, and other costs that should be annualized rather than skew the data for that month.  For example, we paid over $1300 in June for registration and insurance on the van.  However, we will average that cost out across the whole year in order to have a more realistic perspective on what our monthly costs are.

Our Actual Vanlife cost

Our actual spend over the last year has fluctuated a lot depending on where we are.  Generally speaking, if we’re in cities, we spend more on Food & Drink.  We like to enjoy local restaurants (read: tacos & ice cream), breweries, or the occasional fancy night out in Downtown Chicago at The Albert.  Our spending also changes a lot month-to-month because of gas costs. There are some months where we covered a lot of miles, and others where we traveled less.  This makes our gas purchases fluctuate quite a bit.  Since we average approximately 12-16 mpg, we spend a lot of money on gas when we’re covering a lot of ground.

Monthly Average Vanlife Cost

As I mentioned before, it’s important for us to understand how much we spend while traveling, vs. how much we spend while we’re stationary since we go between the two throughout the year.

Our average cost while stationary in January & November is: $1654.59

Our average cost while traveling in June-October is : $2455.04

The month of February is an exception, as we were traveling in Baja, where it is much cheaper to travel!  We only spent $1,211 that month!  Maybe we should just travel in Baja all of the time and never go anywhere else! 

vanlife cost

Vanlife Cost Summary

The most important part of this analysis is that we have a good understanding of how much vanlife costs for us a year.  We can use these figures to estimate our future spending.  Therefore, we can determine how much money we need to make to support this lifestyle.

Since we are stationary for 6 months, and then travel for 6 months, we use our average costs per month to determine that we will need approximately $25,000 per year to sustain vanlife.  Relative to how much it costs to live in a brick-and-mortar home, this is not very much money at all!

This total is relatively close to the amount that we budgeted when we started planning for vanlife, and is right about what we expected we would spend.  It is encouraging to see that our budget was fairly accurate.  If you are interested in seeing how we built our budget for vanlife, check out our blog on How to Build a Budget for Vanlife.

Whether you’re in a van, a camper, or a regular car, you can use these figures as a baseline.  No matter what adventure you’re getting ready for, we hope that this analysis will help you better understand how much vanlife costs. 

Happy Travels!

8 Comments

  1. This is great. I was never very aware of how much I spend during my time traveling in my van. I knew it was cheaper than renting or owning a house. I wonder if you could cut down on the gas, even more, when you use alternatives like running an engine on cooking oil, but I believe you can only do that with a diesel engine.
    Your phone bill seems high. I pay $40 for mine, and I even have 3 GB data. I did have to call them a couple of times to negotiate a better plan, but it’s worth checking, especially when the phone companies have new offers. Or it’s getting close to Christmas 🙂
    All in all, it’s just amazing how much freedom van life brings, sure there are some sacrifices, but I think they make up for it when you can call anywhere you wake up your home. Cheers

    • Thanks for reading! Now that we’ve done this analysis, we’re definitely going to find a way to cut costs here and there. Our gas costs were much higher than expected because we traveled so much. You are 100% right when you say that the ultimate reward for this lifestyle is the freedom we have!

      Thanks,
      Jess & Greg

  2. What an amazing way to be able to travel and see the country. One thing that I was wondering was how much did it cost to get the van all set up for living in it for that long? I can imagine that there might be a lot of added costs up front to get it all set. Looks like fun for sure. One other question is do you park at campgrounds to sleep or just find a parking lot. Would be cool to do but with two kids a can would be way to small for sure. We have been looking into a bigger camper to be able to travel but the costs we were unsure of and now I have a baseline to go off. Thank you for all the great info and I hope you continue to enjoy life on the road.
    Douglas

    • Hi Douglas, thanks for reading! You make a great point, there was definitely a large upfront cost for the van and the conversion itself. I will probably write another blog post dedicated specifically to that since so many people ask! We typically try to find free camping in the woods, but will sleep at a truck stop or WalMart parking lot if we can’t find anything else. We try hard not to pay for campgrounds because we don’t really use the facilities! I know traveling with a family is a whole different ball game and it makes sense that you would be looking for a bigger camper. Ideally, you can find a camper that fits your family, and cut costs in other ways. Everyone is different though!
      Happy travels and maybe we’ll see you on the road sometime!

      Jess & Greg

  3. Hi Jess & Greg,
    Wow, I envy you! Sounds like an awesome life you’ve built for yourselves.
    We are nearing retirement, and living on the road has crossed our minds. Unfortunately, we have other concerns living in Canada.
    For one, travelling down to the USA (which we would to visit our son in Texas) for months at a time cost a lot more when you add the exchange.
    Travelling around Canada only works from late spring to early fall as we get snow so early and it seems to last forever. Not much fun in that kind of weather.
    Maybe we’ll head to Bali like you did, lol.
    I really enjoyed your post, thanks again,
    Suzanne

    • Hi Suzanne, thanks for the comment! It is definitely more expensive to travel in the US after the exchange. We know a few Canadian couples doing it, it just takes a little more planning and budgeting. The weather in the winter in Canada is certainly a deterrent to living on the road during that time of year. We find that most people are either winter sport enthusiasts, or they are snow birds that follow warm weather south. Bali is a very inexpensive option! I hope that you find happiness in whatever path you choose when you retire!

      Jess & Greg

  4. I think it all depends on where you park. Some places cheap and others are exspensive. Nighty rates work out more expensive in the long run compared to a seasonal pass. Some people are happy staying somewhere for a few months at a time but others want to be somewhere different every night. It all depends on your preferences and planning.

    • HI Catherine, we couldn’t agree more! We definitely could have spent less if we stayed in one place for a longer period of time. I think over time, we will travel less miles and stop for longer periods more often.

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