Wondering how much van life costs? We break down every expense you can expect to incur with a life on the road.
One of the biggest questions on everyone’s mind when it comes to van life is cost – what is the monthly van life cost?
This is, unfortunately, no easy question to answer. It differs from person to person, depending on the van lifestyle you wish to live. The more extravagantly you live, the more it’s going to cost you – simple.
Van life expenses come in a variety of forms and sometimes they can catch you off-guard, sneaking up behind you like a panther stalking its prey. And then suddenly you’re broke and stuck in the middle of nowhere. Not cool!
The goal of this article is to highlight some of the main costs associated with van life, as well as some of the hidden costs. This will ensure that you will be equipped to hit the road without having to worry too much about your finances.
If you’re smart about it, you’ll even be able to save money and build up a little gold pot for later down the line.
So, let’s get started!
Van Life Costs Broken Down
Let’s break down the various items to give you an idea of the cost of living in a van.
There are obviously your initial costs of getting set up, such as purchasing your camper van. If it is a cargo van or a sprinter van, for example, you will need to fit it out. This means more cash!
Let’s take a look at the initial van life costs that you might incur.
Initial Van Life Costs
The initial van life costs are some of the more obvious costs that you will incur on your van life adventure. They are usually straightforward, although they can escalate, especially if you buy a lemon.
They can be summed up as the initial van purchase, the build, and the accessories to make it homely.
Initial van purchase
Many van lifers will opt for a used camper van, purely because they will be cheaper and your van cost will be one of your biggest expenses.
If you are in a position where you can afford a new van, then lucky you! You are in the minority of van lifers though. Expect to pay upwards of tens of thousands of dollars depending on what you choose.
For the rest of us, a used camper van will be the option that is chosen. A used van can cost you anywhere from a couple of thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars – it all depends on your budget and what you’re looking to get out of your van.
Many van lifers enjoy a challenge. They thrive on buying an old, worn-out van and fixing it up and restoring it to its former glory, and beyond.
Read More: Check out this post for everything you need to know about buying a campervan.
If you opt for purchasing an empty cargo van or something similar, it will require a build to get it fit for hitting the road for extended periods of time. This means having cash for your campervan conversion to be able to build it up to your specifications.
Each van conversion is completely unique and can be from the bare minimum to the most extravagant of fit-outs. It all depends on your budget and what you’re looking to get out of your van.
Another option is to buy a van that has already been built up and is ready to hit the road. This will obviously cost more but has the convenience factor of simply packing and hitting the road. Again, it depends on what you are looking to get out of the whole van life experience.
Read Next: If you want to build out your own van, check out our van conversion guide!
Fitting it out
Finally, you will need to fit out your van with all your things. Again, this is very personalized and everyone’s van interior will be different, just as we all are individuals.
These personal expenses associated with fitting your van out with all your belongings can cost anywhere from a couple of dollars to thousands of dollars depending on what you put inside.
Many van lifers enjoy the minimalist lifestyle and will only take along the bare minimum. Others enjoy all the comforts of home, especially if they’re going to be on the road indefinitely.
Read Next: Check out these great tips for organizing your van.
Food and Drink
The next category of monthly van life costs is your food and your drinks. We all have to eat and we all have to keep hydrated. Many people will also enjoy a drink in the evenings, whether an ice-cold beer, a glass of wine, or a spirit and mix.
These all add to your monthly van life costs and again, differ from person to person.
Your basic food budget is one of the most important monthly van life expenses to consider. You can live very simply and survive off the most basic of food items. Or if you’re a foodie, you’ll want to create amazing meals on the go.
It’s also possible to source your own food, whether it be wild trout or salmon, berries and other fruit, mushrooms, or even larger game if you’re into hunting. This is both fun and will reduce your monthly van life expenses.
While going out is definitely considered a luxury amongst the van life fraternity, it is important to socialize every so often. This depends on your personality type as some prefer to be completely alone and away from people.
Going out can cost you a couple of dollars for a beer or two, to hundreds of dollars for a meal out. It’s always nice to treat yourself every now and then, so be sure to have a bit of extra cash saved for those special treats.
Alcohol is one of the other personal expenses that can throw off your budget if you’re not careful. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re out socializing and “just one drink” can lead to a few hundred dollars before you know it.
While these monthly costs can be some of the biggest expenses, it’s all about budget and discipline.
The next category of the biggest monthly expenses is your on-the-road costs. These encompass your monthly expenses while living on the road.
They are comprised of accommodation/camping, your entertainment costs, your phone, data and Wi-Fi, and medical insurance.
They all add up so ensure that you are aware of what you’re in for. While these costs vary wildly, you can get a pretty good idea beforehand of what you can expect when you’re living a full-time van life.
Camping along the way can add to your monthly expenses depending on where you camp. If you opt for paid campgrounds, it’s going to cost you. But there are many options for free campsites, wild camping and even overnight parking at Wal Mart if you’re up for some amazing adventures.
Related: Check out our guide to overnight campervan parking to save money camping!
You’re going to want to visit attractions along the way such as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite National Park, to name a couple. Access to these places will cost you so it is important to consider them and budget accordingly when you’re on the road.
You’re going to want to have your music set up for the long drives and your favorite series on demand for the evenings. This means having your Spotify account sorted and your Netflix account ready. Again, this means additional costs to factor into your monthly expenses.
These are obviously the most popular ones but others you might wish to sign up to are Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, or YouTube Music, to name a few.
Your clothes are going to get dirty along the way so laundry facilities are another thing to consider for van living. You can hand wash certain items but every so often you’ll need to do a proper wash.
If you’re passing by friends or family, bonus! Otherwise, you’ll need to factor in the costs for doing your laundry at a local laundromat.
Read Next: Check out our post on the best ways to wash your clothes in a van.
One of the most important considerations, especially if you are a digital nomad and work from the road, is an internet connection and mobile Wi-Fi . You can get yourself a mobile Wi-Fi router with an unlimited data plan or ensure that you have one for your cell phone so that you can set up a mobile hotspot.
Cell phone service can also be a bit dodgy so you might want to get yourself a signal booster to ensure you remain connected at all times.
Read Next: Be sure to read our post on how to stay connected on the road.
Health insurance/Medical cover
Lastly, and probably most importantly, is to ensure that you have decent health insurance to cover you for your road trip. Most people are on the road anywhere from a few weeks to a few months and sometimes even a few years.
It is important that if you live in a van and are driving long distances on a regular basis you have your medical cover in check. It is obviously an extra cost, but it’s absolutely worth it in the case of an emergency.
Next up, are vehicle-specific costs that should be considered and are probably some of the most common expenses that you will encounter along the way.
Road trips cost money and to add to your monthly expenses are the following costs:
Fuel costs are probably the most common and important camper van costs when it comes to life on the road. Fuel enables your camper van to drive and that’s what gets you from one adventurous spot to the next.
The maintenance of your van is of the utmost importance as you want it to serve you well and be reliable. Regular services are a must and general repairs and maintenance are going to be required.
Always have a bit of cash stored away for these surprise costs as sometimes they catch you off-guard and the last thing you want to be left with is a massive repair bill.
Following on from the above, car insurance ensures that you have a safety net if something major goes wrong on your camper van. While it’s an additional monthly cost, it will save you money in the long run from a potentially crippling repair job.
Tips for Maintaining Your Van Life Budget
Living in a van is great. It’s not for everyone, but for those that love adventure, travel, and living van life is the ultimate.
While the van life cost fluctuates highly from person to person, it is possible to actually save money living in a van. You can greatly reduce your monthly living costs by doing a few of the following things:
Use free campsites
There are many free campsites available to van lifers and they’re a great way to save money. Ultimately, your rent cost goes out the window and you can save the extra cash for the future.
Read More: We break down the best ways to find affordable overnight campervan camping in this post.
Cook your own meals
By cooking meals in your own camper van and avoiding eating out, you can save a lot of money… A LOT! Eating out is expensive so reducing the number of meals you eat out means you can save money.
For example, have a barbecue in the evening and cook a bit of extra meat and even some vegetables. They can then be used the next day for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Or even all three meals, depending on how much food is leftover.
Thank me later!
Plan the route
The five P’s come into play here – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. If you plan your route properly, you’ll avoid wrong turns and double-backing on yourself. This will save you fuel and money.
It is also a good idea in terms of calculating the shortest route and again, saving on fuel and money.
Buy a used campervan
As I mentioned at the start of the article, a used camper van is going to be way cheaper than a new one. This is probably the biggest initial cost in setting up your van life so you’ll want to do it in the most cost-effective way possible.
Read Next: Save yourself a lot of time and money by first checking out our post on how to buy a campervan.
Finally, add solar panels to your camper van. The sun’s rays are free to use and provided there’s no ridiculous cloud cover, will continue to power your van and its appliances.
While they can be a bit more costly to install, they become worth it in the long run especially if you’re planning to live in your van for many years to come.
Read More: Check out our review of the best campervan solar panels on the market!