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How Much Does Vanlife Cost?

One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is: “How much does vanlife cost?” It’s also one of the most difficult to answer. The truth is: it depends. Vanlife is different for everyone, and so is the price.

That being said, we’re going to give you a run-down of three van lifers with different backgrounds making it work on the road. We hope this will help give you a reference point for how finances can be managed living in a van.

How Much Does It Cost To Buy A Camper Van?

First things first, the type of vehicle you choose to buy is going to be the largest up-front cost to vanlife. We’ve written a breakdown of what type vehicle you should buy to help figure this out.

Some people move into the vehicle that they currently own. They do minimal to no conversion, and enjoy the lifestyle just fine.

Others spend $45,000 purchasing a 4WD Sprinter. Then add another $15,000 on a high-tech campervan conversion. Despite what you see on Instagram, this is not the norm.

Keep in mind, just like furniture in a house, you can spend as little or as much as you want on a conversion. Solar power, refrigerators and self-contained toilets are all comforts and may not be necessary to the lifestyle. Build within your budget and save a little bit for emergencies.

We bought our 1996 Dodge Ram Van for $3,700 on Craigslist and spent another $5,000 converting it with a queen sized bed, fridge, solar power, and general repairs. Here are some pictures.

living in a DIY campervan conversion full time
Our campervan conversion, a 1996 Dodge B1500

How Much Does Vanlife Cost Per Month?

In a van you can get away with no rent. But there’s still food, gas and insurance to pay. For some, vanlife leads to a significant reduction in expenses. These are the people who utilize free campsites, cook their own meals every night, and don’t splurge on entertainment.

On the other hand, paying for campsites, crisscrossing the country or visiting tourist attractions can quickly add up to even more than your traditional lifestyle.


Vanlife On $850 Per Month

Rob from Little House On The Road lives in a pop-up camper with his wife. Together, they aim to maintain a monthly budget of $850. To achieve this goal, they always stay at free campsites, travel infrequently to reduce gas, and get creative with meals to keep the price low.

Rob and his wife do not have a solar power system in their vehicle. Instead, they power their devices using a generator that runs about four hours per day. While some people certainly can go lower, $850 per month is a realistic budget to set if you’re looking to do vanlife on the cheap.

CheapRVLiving.com is a great resource for budget-friendly information. This website highlights numerous case studies of people making life work in low-cost situations. They also have forums and members that live in every type of vehicle from small cars to minivans.

Vanlife On $1200 Per Month

Alexander Travelbum has been on the road for two years, and this video discusses the expenses he pays with his girlfriend. We think these two offer a good representation of a comfortable adventure budget.

They cook most of their own food, eat out occasionally and buy the rare souvenir. Most of their entertainment is cheap or free and includes visits to National Parks and outdoor activities. Their budget comes out to around $1,200 per month.

Vanlife On $2,000+ Per Month

The Minimal Millennials both work remotely and are able to splurge a little more when it comes to spending. We think this video is a pretty good breakdown of how much it takes to live comfortably and have some fun on the road.

Overall the Minimal Millennials spend about $2,100 per month. This includes insurance, investments, coffee, groceries, gym memberships, internet, eating out, and gas.

Because they both work on the road, they are able to eat out more regularly and spend money on tourism. They also tend to travel longer distances between locations and move frequently to different areas.

Health Insurance On The Road

One thing to keep in mind is the first two videos do not include health insurance in their budgets. Health insurance is a complicated process and the price is going to vary wildly from individual to individual. It’s important to factor your own health care costs into the equation.

We are not healthcare experts, and because the laws change so frequently we’re not going to do in-depth discussion on the costs of health insurance.

Personally, we are insured through our home state’s healthcare exchange. There are also shared options to look into. The Minimal Millennials are on a group plan through TheHealthShareLady.com for example.

Don’t forget the Emergency Expenses!

how much does it cost to live in a van
@eh.mon

One thing people forget to take into account is emergency vehicle repairs that inevitably occur. It doesn’t take too many Youtube videos before you come across a van lifer that has been put out a day or a week waiting for parts to come in. These parts will also need to be replaced, so labor costs should be factored into your monthly budget as well.

Unlike in a house where if the dishwasher breaks you can live without it for a few weeks; your vehicle is your home. If your van breaks down and you don’t have an emergency fund you are out of house *and* transportation.

At the very least, you should ideally have enough set aside to get your vehicle towed to a mechanic and perhaps a cheap hotel for a few days if something needs to be replaced.

This is another area where vehicle selection comes into play. Inexpensive vehicles also tend to be less expensive to repair. The motor on a Mercedes Sprinter van can cost as much as $15,000 to replace, for example. See our post on types of van to live in for more info.

Tips For Living Vanlife On A Budget

  • Use free campsites. This can’t be overstated; the easiest way to save money on the road is to go camping for free. If you’re unsure of where to find free campsites, read this article.
  • Plan your route. Instead of crisscrossing the country several times, consider staying in one area for days–or even weeks at a time. You’ll save a significant amount of money on gas.
  • Cook your own food. Making your own meals is almost always going to be cheaper than eating out. Practice creating minimalistic meals or reheating extra dinner for breakfast in the morning.
  • Save fuel when cooking. Roasting dinner over a campfire is cheaper than heating over propane if you have access to free firewood. Consider fuel costs when cooking.
    • Use lids while cooking food in a pot to contain the heat
    • Don’t use recipes with long cook times if you’re using propane or electricity
    • Get creative with no-cook meals (sandwiches, salads, snack mixes)
  • Reduce your water use. There are many situations where you can refill water for free. But if you can’t, do your best to conserve water.
    • Use minimal water when cooking
    • Clean and sanitize with white wine vinegar instead of water
    • Minimize dishes so that cleaning takes less water
  • Be smart about food storage. Not everyone needs to buy a $1000 Dometic fridge and solar system to power it. You can easily get by with a large camping cooler. Think about your lifestyle and weigh the options when it comes to all major appliances. But worse, letting food go bad is a waste of money and space.
  • Cut back on electricity. Every electric item that you add to your camper is going to require a larger energy system. When you choose to add an induction burner, you’re not just buying a burner, you’re buying more solar panels and a larger battery bank as well. Get creative, and use something other than a coffee maker to make your morning joe!
  • Bundle up. Many people think they need a heater in the winter and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Unless you live in Canada, you can probably survive by bundling up in the winter or sleeping next to some hot water bottles.
  • Take advantage of public locations. Having a hard time staying cool in the summer? It’s cheaper to walk around the mall during the day rather than buying an air conditioner. Starbucks or the local library is a great place to get internet on the road without investing in a cell phone signal booster.
  • Use memberships. Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of all of the activities that you do. A US National Park Pass, for example, costs less than $100 per year but gives you access to dozens of parks and recreation sites which is more than enough activity to fill your day.
  • Use a cheaper phone plan. There are more networks out there than Verizon and T-mobile. We use Visible which uses the Verizon Network towers, but at a cheaper price. Do your research and find the plan that works best for your situation.
  • Buy a used camper van. You may think that financing a new van is the cheapest way to save on repair costs, but that’s not always the case. Learning how to shop for a used camper van and mastering some basic repairs on youtube university can save you hundreds of dollars.
  • Drive safe and maintain your vehicle. Getting oil changes, keeping your tires inflated, driving the speed limit, and avoiding parking tickets is the best way to prevent surprise costs.

Determine Your Vanlife Budget

Listed below are the most common expenses you should take into consideration before starting your trip. Download our budget worksheet to get an estimate of your expenses.

CategoryEstimated Cost
Groceries
Alcohol
Cooking Fuel
Water/Ice
Gas
Camping Budget
Laundry
Gym Membership
Phone Plan
Health Insurance
Car Insurance
Van Maintenance
Emergency Fund
Entertainment
National Parks
State Parks
Museums
Restaurants
Souveniers
Other Expenses
Parking Garages
Toll Roads
TV Streaming
Music Streaming
eBooks or Games
Pharmacy

Download Editable File

Helpful Resources:

This Post Has 16 Comments
  1. I love this site! The part about health insurance, along with other necessary documents, brings about the question of a permanent address. I plan on making the move to van life soon and will still be working in the city at first. Obviously I will be stealth camping as much as possible, but am curious what people do when the need for a permanent address comes up. Thank you for any info you can throw my way.

    With Thanks For The Inspiration,
    Jason

    1. The simplest and most secure way to handle a permanent address is to use a friend or relative’s address. For the RealID Act requirements, the US doesn’t allow for PO boxes anymore. We just register with a relative’s house. This works for our insurance, taxes, vehicle registration renewal, etc. It makes residency questions simple as far as the legal stuff. There are some workarounds for some of the problems (for instance, you can register your vehicle in certain states without an address), but in the long run you need a house/apartment that you’re “renting” at to stay on top of things.

      1. I have been researching the permanent residence question. My auto insurance said I could not just “rent a room” from a friend for an address. She said it would be fraud.
        It seems one needs to purchase insurance and register according to each states laws. Most require registration with in 30 days.
        Does anyone have any links to more information about car/RV insurance?

        TIA

  2. Uhhh i didnt ever on my life spend half that driving to work and renting an apartment. You’re in a van without rent or utilities living on free federal land. All you have is some gas and food to buy. You make well inder poverty line so you get help. Try more like $210…$2100 is a yearly budget

    1. Daryl;

      The world of living at $210/month is fairly ambiguous to us. It’s hard to make all-encompassing financial predictions when you’re that far under poverty line. And how it can be dealt with varies from state to state and personal situations and is changing frequently. That’s why our low-budget example is just base expenses and still doesn’t cover all the tricks of navigating the welfare system such as unemployment and medicare. We don’t have the facilities or experience to research it all. Most of those questions can be helped more by Bob and friends at cheaprvliving.com or local institutions as they have larger support groups and lots of helpful people!

  3. Everyone spending over budget.I spend about 200.00 a month on van living.because I don’t move around much. Been doing this for a while for work. 50 of the dollars go towards my phone and the rest Is goods.

    1. So you have no insurance on your van? No health insurance? What do you eat, all ramen noodles? I have a hard time imagining you’re living on only $200/month!

    1. For 2 people, I spend at least double that (at least $400) for groceries for a month. Not sure why you think someone is below poverty because they choose to live in a van, but even if they were, $210 would not feed them… MAYBE it would feed them if they also received some form of welfare (foodstamps/WIC). In addition you would have to cover other necessities, heating/cooling unless in an ideal location at an ideal time of year, and the inevitable repairs that will come up. $210 is simply not realistic; at least not sustainable. But hey! if you have figured out how to survive on that, I would genuinely love to know how!

      1. I live it a house since my home is paid for and its just me I only spend a 25.00 a week on food and any cleaning supplies at the 99 cent store and I don’t eat noddles just a lot of salads and veggies and sometimes I spend less money on food. My medical insurance is paid by my employer and utilities run around $140.00 which includes my cheap phone. all which i deduct part of at the end of the year since i work from home. My car insurance is 65.00 a month. I still pay taxes and insurance on m house which is around 3, 000 a year. Prior to me paying off my house with a 15 year loan my payment was $1,200 a month with taxes and insurance. Van life living seems high. But I can see Bob only spending $200.00 if he is not moving his Van around because no one person should be eating that much anyway and its called Van living not Van traveling, correct?.

  4. There’s a thin line between “van life” and being homeless. Let’s admit there’s a lot of people living in cars because they have to, including to many single mothers and their kids. Often these sites like to say it doesn’t have to be like Chris Farely’s “Living in a van by the river,” but it can be. When I had a medical condition where I received Medicaid (although my state bends over backwards to call it something else) for eight months, and qualified for Medicare, getting benefits was a complex maze, if you can “get help”, it’s often young, naive social workers who really have no idea what to do, or worse volunteers. And it’s also a waiting game for benefits. It’s shameful how little this country helps truly needy people and accuses them of freeloading. And I’m sorry to say, many “van life” promoters make this worse

  5. Thank you for this!! In 2,100 days, I’m planning a gap year for myself to take off and just see the country and take a break after my son graduates high school and enlists in the military. Single mom life = once my kiddo is flying? I can do what I’ve always dreamed of doing – setting out on the road and not having to live by the seat of my pants!

  6. Great site.

    I’m 80% sure (and climbing) I’m going to do this in about a year. This site is a useful resource for research and planning.

    I figure I need to spend about $1,000/month on this once I’m set up — car payments (if any), car insurance, health insurance, phone/data, gas, food, supplies. That would leave me a good chunk of money to “save” for emergencies, repairs, opportunities, upgrades, and whatnot.

    Was originally thinking of a minivan, but now maybe a cargo van makes more sense with some minimal conversions (solar panels gimbling on the roof, some interior things), and eventually a little trailer with a 250cc motorcycle and bicycle. After all, I don’t want to sit in the thing 24/7 and don’t need windows or much froufrou. I can move around as the weather suits me.

    Also, having been through some of the energy calculations on this site and investigating batteries and solar panels and all that, I’d probably get a 10″ tablet for my basic Internet activities and keep a laptop around only for work. Saves much power.

    So, this site is helping me refine or revise my ideas in a realistic way to find out if this is doable, and if so, how to make it happen.

    Most importantly, it (as do other sites) assured me that others are doing this thing. They are all clean and pretty and happy 🙂

    Well, we’ll see.

  7. Is it possible to have an inexpensive home base somewhere incase you need to stop and recharge your mental and physical health?

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Eternal Flame in NY

ABOUT US
Hello! We are Kate, Ian and Harper. We spent over two years living in a DIY camper van and visiting 48 US states. Along the way, we've met with other van lifers, checked out their rigs, and learned a lot about adventure travel. We hope this site can help you plan your next road trip.

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