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 endless freedom and adventure around every turn.
Even though living in a van year-round is usually cheaper than paying rent or having a mortgage—plus utilities and all the upkeep on a house—there are still certain expenses that you should be aware of before becoming a full-time van lifer. Instagram might portray vanlife as the perfect lifestyle, but it has it’s own challenges and isn’t for everyone.
Here are some of the main costs of living in your travel van full-time:
Camping Van Price
The first and most obvious expense is the cost of the camper van itself. (If you already own a motorhome, then you get to skip this part.) Even though the nicest motorhomes are typically less expensive the cost of most traditional houses, they can still be a sizeable investment.
How much does a travel van cost? The price range of a new or used camper van varies greatly, spanning from as low as $10,000 for older used models to as much as $200,000 or more for state-of-the-art new rigs.
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 great way to save money. A fully renovated van is going to fetch a higher price than one that’s “bare bones.”
Travel Insurance and Registration
As a vehicle, you must be sure that your camping van or motorhome is properly licensed, registered 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 emissions testing laws in your state as some states make exceptions for vehicles older than a certain year.
Insurance costs should also be calculated when determining your budget. The cost of insuring your camping van will depend on the state, your driving record, and what kind of van you own. On average, full-time insurance for your RV, motorhome or campervan can range from $1,000 to $2,000 per year, based on data from recent years. Contact your insurance company to get a quote.
As any long-time RVer and vanlifer can attest to, fuel expenses can definitely add up if you drive your travel rig a lot and move often. Bigger, older campervans aren’t very fuel efficient, especially not when weighed down with all of your belongings. Many motorhomes get less than 20 mpg on average. Even though some newer models get slightly better gas mileage, be prepared to budget accordingly.
Gas is one of the biggest expenses for full-timers, so 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 $50 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 overnight parking illegal. Finding a quiet and peaceful place to sleep in your van can be challenge in certain parts of the country, particularly in larger cities.
Food & Dining
When you arrive at exciting new destinations, it can be tempting to try new restaurants. In fact, getting to travel and explore new places 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 (similar to how you budget for fuel) if that’s an essential part of your travels.
To save money on food and dining costs, 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 traditional home.
Vehicle Maintenance and Repairs
Depending on how many miles you’re putting on your travel van, you may have to budget for more frequent vehicle maitenance like oil changes, tire rotations, alignments and brake replacements. Keeping up to date with this basic maintenance is especially important in a travel vehicle because the last thing you want is to get stranded in the middle of nowhere with all of your belongings.
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.
Are You Ready For Full-Time Travel?
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.
If you’re in the market for a new or used travel van to make your dreams of adventure a reality, consider browsing our online inventory to see what we have in stock. As America’s #1 camping van, sleep van and conversion van dealer, we are in the business of helping our customers find the best home-on-wheels for them.