How cheap is full-time van life, and how much money can you actually save?
Living in a campervan full-time has long held appeal to both young and old as it allows the freedom to travel all around the country for relatively low cost. It’s commonly portrayed as a cheap, nomadic lifestyle that provides you tons of freedom and adventure around every turn.
Even though living in a van year-round is usually much cheaper than paying rent or having a mortgage, plus utilities and all the upkeep on a house, there are still certain expenses you should be aware of before becoming a full-time van lifer.
Buying a Van
The first and most obvious cost of van life is purchasing a van. (If you already have a motorhome, then you get to skip this part.) Although even the nicest motorhome is nowhere near the cost of a house, they can still be a sizeable investment.
How much of an investment? The price range of a new or used camper van varies greatly, spanning from as low as $3,000 to as much as $60,000 or even more. The final price will depend on various things, including whether the van is already renovated or not.
If you’re a handy DIY-er, then buying a cheap but mechanically sound van and renovating it yourself may be a way to save money. A fully renovated van is going to fetch a higher price than one that’s “bare bones.”
Before driving a campervan, you must be sure that the vehicle is properly licensed and insured. In some states, the van may need to pass an emissions test. This can be an unforeseen expense if you bought a used van that was made before emissions tests were required. Check the laws in your state though as some states make exceptions for vehicles older than a certain year when it comes to emissions tests.
Insurance costs should also be calculated when determining your budget. The exact amount of your insurance premium will depend on the state, your driving record, and what kind of van you own. Contact your insurance company to get a quote.
Fuel expenses can definitely add up if you drive a lot. Large or old campervans aren’t very fuel efficient, and especially not when weighed down with all of your stuff. Many of these motorhomes get less than 20 mpg on average. However, newer models typically get better gas mileage.
We recommend estimating the cost of fuel in advance. Simply multiply the number of miles your van gets per gallon by how many miles you think you’ll be driving, then budget for this expense on a per month basis.
Parking & Camping
When you’re not driving your campervan, you’ll have to park it somewhere. This is another potential hidden cost as parking is not always free. Camping fees vary widely, but usually range somewhere between $10 to $30 per night, If you’re determined to park free, just be prepared to explore or do research upfront. Large parking lots, parks, and roadside pull-offs can all be great options if there’s nothing indicating that it’s illegal.
Food & Dining
When you arrive at exciting new destinations, it can be tempting to try new restaurants. In fact, this is one of the many benefits of owning a campervan in the first place. However, eating out adds up very quickly and you should budget for it. To save money, consider using your motorhome kitchen and eating in. For two people, most full-time van lifers report spending between $125 and $150 per week, which is probably not all that different from what you’d spend in a home.
Many people who live in their campervan all year long report having a sizable savings before venturing out on the road. Other van lifers continue working out of their van or from coffeeshops if their job allows.
Regardless of your situation, we recommend keeping an emergency fund just in case an unexpected expense arise. Mechanical problems tend to be the most costly emergency expenses facing van lifers. It’s also a good idea to learn some things about working on a vehicle yourself. Many times the cost of fixing a vehicle is 70 percent labor and only 30 percent parts. If you have to take the van to a mechanic shop, you’ll probably need to have some extra cash stashed aside to stay in a hotel while you wait for your van to get fixed.
In the end, living in a campervan or motorhome full-time can be a very fulfilling lifestyle. Budgeting and preparing for unforeseen costs are the best ways to keep expenses down and be successful in your long-term travels. Keep reading to learn if living on the road full time is right for you.