Is Van Life Cheap? Factors That Determine How Much You Spend

One of the biggest misconceptions is that van life is a cheap way to live and helps you save money. But the truth is, van life can cost however much you want to pay. While you can go bare bones and pay the minimal amount to get by, van life can also cost as much as if living an everyday 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 reading this article, you should have a better idea of whether van life is cheap orexpensive.

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How Much Will You Drive?

Google maps showing route between Seattle and Miami
Lots of gas will be 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 dropped significant amounts of money every few days to fill our tank.

When asking yourself how much van life will cost, it’s essential to consider where you plan to travel 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 increase quickly.

Finding cheap gas and discounts at the pump can help 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 by selecting a vehicle with better fuel economy.

Where Will You Sleep?

Ford transit camper van parked on the grass in a campground in Mexico
Paid campgrounds are nice, but costs add up

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

Paid campgrounds are convenient places to sleep. They provide safe parking places, 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 monthly rent.

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.

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

Where Will You Eat?

Woman showing off her sandwich lunch at Valhalla Macadamia Nut Farm in Antigua, Guatemala
Delicious polish sausage sandwich at Valhalla Macadamia Farm

We all have to eat to survive. But where you decide to eat greatly impacts 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 pasta meal versus $14.99 at a restaurant. Oh, and don’t forget the 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.

Instant Pot Duo Mini (3QT)

The perfect companion when cooking in a van. Throw in your favorite meats, vegetables, and spices, and press the 'start' button when ready. It's that easy. You must have at least a 2000-watt inverter to power this device.

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How Will You Get Your Internet? Coffees Add Up…

Cafe latte in a porcelain cup
Latte Aa Fernando’s Kaffee

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

If you need some connectivity to update your social media and check your email, chances are you’d be okay 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..

Final Thoughts: Van Life Costs Depend on Your Lifestyle!

When assessing the actual cost of van life, a little planning will be required. 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, keeping a realistic budget is the best way to ensure Internett overspend during your travels. Figure out how much you can afford to spend monthly 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 travels, please let us know in the comments section below.

Happy traveling!

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