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Is Van Life Cheap? How To Assess The Cost Of Van Life

Van life isn't free. But if you think critically about these four expense categories, you can limit how much you spend each month during your van life journey.

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One of the biggest misconceptions is that van life helps you save money and that it’s a cheap lifestyle. But the truth is, van life can cost however much you want to pay. While you can certainly go bare bones and pay the minimal amount to get by, van life can also cost almost as much as if you were living a normal life in your apartment or house. It all depends on what you’re doing while living in your van.

So in this post, we’ll talk about what you should consider when assessing the cost of your van life journey. After this article you should have a much better idea on whether van life is cheap or if it’s expensive.

So if you’re ready, let’s get to it!

Our Van Life Costs

First and foremost, in order to give you some perspective and expectations, we’re going to reveal how much van life has cost us in the 2+ years that we’ve been on the road.

Note: We’ve only taken cost notes for roughly 10 months and have since stopped because the note taking became so tedious. Now we just try to keep within a budget range every month.

 Van Life In USAVan Life In Mexico
Total:$1,888/month$1,728/month
Gas:$446$283
Camping:$82$396
Eating Out:$269$453
Groceries:$322$187
Other:$769$409

What you might notice is that regardless of whether we’re traveling in the US or Mexico, our van life monthly expenses roughly stay the same.

More or less, $1,800 per month. And the majority of that is spent on the combination of gas, sleeping, eating out, and groceries.

Next, we’ll talk about several of the largest van life expense categories. How you spend your money in the following categories can help dictate whether you believe van life is cheap or not!

How Much Will You Drive? Campervan’s Are Gas Guzzlers...

Seattle To Miami Route
Lots of gas required for this drive!

If you entered van life to travel and see the world, like we did, gas (or diesel) will likely be the expense that you spend the most money on. When driving on America’s highways, we were dropping significant money every few days just to fill our tank.

When asking yourself how much will van life cost you, it’s important to think about where you plan to travel in with your campervan. Will you only be using your camper to live rent-free in the city? If so, driving expenses may not amount to much. But if you plan to be long-hauling it across the country, expect your gas expenses to quickly add up.

Finding cheap gas and getting discounts at the pump can help to offset your total gas expenses. We talk about some strategies you can implement to spend less at a gas station in our post: Tips To Reduce Van Life Expenses

Your Vehicle’s Gas Mileage

But just as important as ‘how much’ you drive, it’s also critical to factor in your vehicle’s fuel economy. If you have two vehicles and one gets 15mpg and the other gets 30mpg, your fuel costs can be halved just by selecting a vehicle with better fuel economy.

If you haven’t selected your vehicle yet, check out our article The Best Vans For Van Life. We talk more about fuel economy as one of the factors to think about when selecting your type of campervan.

Where Will You Sleep? Campgrounds Aren’t Cheap

At-Campground-in-Mexico
Paid campgrounds are nice, but costs add up

Where you choose to park your vehicle to sleep can also have a large impact on whether or not van life gets expensive for you.

Paid campgrounds are convenient places to sleep. They provide safe places to park, clean bathroom facilities, electricity and WIFI. But these services come at a cost that quickly adds up. Most campgrounds can cost anywhere from $20-$60 a night, depending on the level of services provided. So if you do the math, paying to camp can almost equal what you would pay in rent each month.

You can imagine, then, that camping for free has become a popular option for those in the van life and RV communities. This involves free camping on BLM land, national forest land, overnight parking at walmart & truck stops, and urban stealth camping.

In fact, there are so many options for free camping, especially in the USA and Canada, that we wrote an article just to discuss how to camp for free in a camper van. Definitely check it out to learn more about camping on the cheap.

Where Will You Eat? Eating Out Is Expensive!

Having lunch at Valhalla Macadamia Farm in Antigua
Eating out is fun, but makes van life more expensive

We all got to eat to survive. But where you decide to eat has a huge impact on how much your van life experience will cost. And eating out at restaurants, unsurprisingly, is considerably more expensive than cooking yourself.

$2 to cook your own pasta meal versus $11.99 at a restaurant. Oh, and don’t forget tip and tax!

When it comes to meals and saving money on van life, the best advice we can give is to make cooking as easy as possible. That way you’ll be less tempted to eat out when you’re tired after spending all day out and exploring.

So we think getting an Instant Pot is a smart choice. This electric pressure cooker makes cooking meals quick and easy. Just throw in your favorite chopped vegetables, sprinkle in some seasoning, and add the meat (if that’s your thing!) and 30 minutes later you have a delicious meal. Plus, if you plan it right, you’ll have leftovers for 1-2 meals the next day.

How Will You Get Your Internet? Coffees Add Up…

Latte At Fernando's Kaffee - Best Cafes In Antigua Guatemala
It's expensive to be addicted to WIFI networks at cafes

Hey, it’s the 21st century and we all need the Internet, no matter how much we might think otherwise. But how you get your Internet can also have a noticeable effect on your van life budget.

If you simply need a little bit of connectivity to update your social media and check your email, chances are you’d be fine with a cheap, low-data plan. But if you plan to work while traveling, or need to upload large video files to YouTube, you may require a faster and more consistent Internet connection.

Several ways you can get unlimited & fast WIFI include:

  • Free: Find a local library to do your work
  • Cheap: Sign up for your cell provider’s unlimited data plan
  • Expensive: Frequent cafes & co-working spaces

Yes, going to a cafe takes its toll on your wallet and the monthly cost quickly adds up.

To learn more about the different ways you can get internet while on the road, we recommend checking out our article, Van Life & Internet: How To Get WIFI While On The Road

Did You Find This Van Life Tip Helpful? We have lots of other useful articles to help you travel better in your camper van or RV. Check out our hacks & tips page to read more great van life content!

Final Thoughts: Van Life Costs Depend On Your Lifestyle!

When assessing the true cost of van life, a little planning will be required on your part. Answering the following four questions can go a long way in helping you figure out how cheap van life will be for you.

  1. How much do you plan to drive?
  2. How often will you be staying at paid campgrounds?
  3. Where will you eat most of your meals?
  4. How often do you plan to frequent cafes and work spaces to get your Internet?

As always, the best way to ensure you don’t overspend during your travels is to keep a realistic budget. Figure out how much you can afford to spend per month and allocate funds for each travel category. (We recommend starting with your gas expenses since driving is unavoidable).

If you have any questions about van life costs or how much we spend for our own travels, please let us know in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

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