In 2021, Living the Van Life Is More Appealing Than Ever Before. Here's What You Can Expect to Pay
COVID-19 has brought about big changes to the way we work, live, travel, and socialize. Millions of people have switched to working from home, with many companies offering remote work as a permanent option. Air travel has been restricted or discouraged, so more families have opted for road trips or camping to unplug and unwind.
With the world shifting to a more virtual way of living for the foreseeable future, many are no longer limited to living in or near a certain area. For some, it’s the perfect time for a new adventure—living the van life. Whether you choose to make a permanent move or travel part-time, you’re in good company: 51% of van-lifers live part-time in their van, while 49% live full-time on the road.1
(Note that many of the statistics in this article are from a single survey from outboundliving.com [linked below]. As such, these statistics may be skewed based on their target audience and readership demographics.)
The van life can work for a surprising variety of people. Freelancers, contractors, and retirees are common van owners, but with remote work becoming more common, even those with a typical 40-hour workweek may have the opportunity. If you’re considering joining the movement, here are seven costs to keep in mind when preparing for life on the road.
Expense #1: The Van
First things first, you’ll need a vehicle to convert into your on-the-go living space. Of those polled in a recent survey on outboundliving.com, the most popular vehicles used include:
- Cargo van (43%)
- Passenger van (18%)
- “Hippie van” / VW (13%)
- Bus (8%)
- RV (6%)2
If you’re looking to save costs, consider searching local auctions, classified ads, and online selling sites for a used vehicle. Be sure to have a trusted mechanic familiar with the vehicle type conduct a thorough inspection.
The cost can vary greatly, just as for cars. A used school bus costs between $20,000 and $70,000; cargo vans cost between $10,000 and $40,000.
Expense #2: Van Remodeling
From simply adding a platform for a mattress and some curtains to creating a fully refurnished living space, your options are endless. How much you choose to remodel your van will depend on how you intend on using it. If it’s going to be your primary home, you’ll likely want to include more amenities. If you’re using it on the weekends for camping and cooking, a remodel will be less extensive.
Be ready to cover expenses such as:
- Electrical & wifi service
- Shower, toilet, sink installation
- Stovetops & kitchen appliance installation
- Beds and bedding
- Tables space
- Window treatments
You might manage a fairly basic remodel (mattress platform, curtains, electricity, etc.) for around $1,000. Beyond that, your renovation costs will depend greatly on what you choose to include.
From the recent survey on van living, here’s what others have spent on remodeling their vans:
- Less than $1,000 (16%)
- $1,000 to $5,000 (31%)
- $5,001 to $10,000 (24%)
- $10,001 to $20,000 (17%
- $20,001 to $40,000 (8%)
- Over $40,000 (3%)3
Expense #3: Van Upkeep
Knowing how to take care of your own minor repairs can be helpful and cost-effective while on the road. Being able to change a tire, check your oil, and perform other basic tasks can mean fewer trips to mechanics and can be vital if you plan to travel to remote locations where help might be many miles away. Of course, you’ll want to budget for regular maintenance of your van and establish an emergency fund for unexpected repairs.
Of course, these costs can vary tremendously. For instance, a simple oil change typically costs between $20 and $704.
Do your research before heading to a mechanic, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area. You can ask locals for their recommendations, check online with the Better Business Bureau, and read reviews on third-party sites. Familiarize yourself with a typical hourly rate in that area and search for a shop with reasonable prices and a good reputation.
Expense #4: Travel Costs
Gasoline costs can take up a significant portion of your monthly budget. It can vary significantly depending on what type of vehicle you drive and, of course, how much you travel.
Search for gas prices along your intended route to prepare for the expense. Find out approximately how much gas your van’s tank will hold and search for typical gas prices along your route. If the average price is $2.50 per gallon and your cargo van’s tank holds 25 gallons, it would cost you about $62.50 to fill up. If you get 12 miles per gallon, you can expect to go around 300 miles on one fill-up. So a 500-mile trip would cost about $105 in gasoline alone. Run the numbers before you hit the road so you maintain a realistic idea of how much you’ll be spending on each trip.
Expense #5: Parking
Often overlooked, parking in certain areas can be costly, and it should be accounted for in your budget.
If you want to park for free, search ahead of time for rest stops, big box stores, and other areas that allow free overnight parking. Some large chain stores will allow vans, RVs, cars, and trucks to stay overnight in their parking lots for free.
Some campsites are free, but most RV campgrounds will charge per night. In addition, some campsites require reservations, and with more people camping during and after the pandemic, availability may be limited. You’ll want to make your plans in advance.
Camping at an RV campground can cost between $25 and $80 per night.5 A campsite in a national park will typically run between $30 and $50 per night.6
Expense #6: The Cost of Living
Just as if you were living in a brick-and-mortar home, you will have ongoing costs. Many of your everyday needs become much more expensive if you have an unconventional living space. While groceries may not cost much more on the road, other things that may cost more include:
Before you set out on your journey, we encourage you to research how much these would cost you and make a budget. Keep in mind the quality of life you currently have. Do you already spend more than average on food? What internet speed must you have for work?
Expense #7: Repairs and Unexpected Costs
Just as in a conventional home, unexpected costs are a part of everyday life. No matter what kind of home you choose—motorized or stationary—it’s important to be prepared. Be especially wary of one-time costs; they might seem like you don’t need to budget for them, but it’s common for different one-time costs to come up about every year.
What Will You Do For Income?
Have you saved enough money that you won’t need to work while you’re on the road? While some travel without working, many people living on the road need to maintain their income.
For freelance writers, artists, designers, and many others, the only requirement is a reliable wifi connection. However, as many businesses have become more flexible, maintaining a 40-hour workweek while living on the road is achievable.
The van life obviously isn’t for everyone. But if it’s the right fit for you, it can open the door to a life of adventure. To make it a smooth and stress-free transition, be prepared for the costs. With the right planning, savings, and strategic budgeting, you can create a memorable and cost-effective experience.
Can your financial situation support a transition to a more adventurous life?
Schedule a free phone consultation with us today.