Cost of Vanlife

Cost of Vanlife – my first six months

People often wonder how much full-time vandwellers spend. I’ll share my cost of vanlife over the first 6 months. My average monthly spending was $2,100. This is quite high for me, and much higher than I expect going forward. Control of ones finances is a critical skill in order to live the kind of life they want. I’ll be posting more on this blog about my spending, my income, and sharing some advice on how to move both of those in the directions you want, and most importantly, how to save your money (your life energy) and win your freedom.

Cost of Vanlife: my first 6 months of spending

I’ve read that it’s common for people to increase their spending for a while after retiring – particularly those who launch right into long term travel. Well, me too. I’ve been a naughty boy. The chart below shows how much I spent each month (the red bars) compared to how much income I had (the green bars, with income shown as a running 3 month average to smooth it out), and a running total showing the surplus/deficit I have (the light red area, which goes negative).

Cost of Vanlife

It’s not all that bad. I bought some expensive camera gear in October. I spent more than usual on gas in August and September. I spent more than usual on health insurance in September and December. If all goes as planned, my spending will be quite low in 2017.

Here are some more details on my spending:

Cost of Vanlife

Some of what’s in the “Essentials” category was not actually essential – like using a lot of gas. But to keep it simple I didn’t try to separate ‘extra gas’ from ‘normal/essential gas’.

Cost of Vanlife

The camera spending was a huge bump. If I hadn’t bought that, my average monthly spend would’ve been about $1,100.

The fixed costs were high in September and December from paying health insurance premiums. In September I paid for the rest of 2016, and those were expensive because my income in the first half of the year prevented me from getting subsidies. In December, I paid premiums for all of 2017. I (expect to) get a lot of subsidy because of my low income. Thanks Obama.

Cost of Vanlife

Looking forward, I expect lower spending on hobbies, gas, and fixed costs. I’m hoping to spent $500-$1000 in many months. Maybe even below $500 a few months.


    My savings (capital) is what generates my income. My aim is to spend that income and preserve the savings. So, from a numbers perspective, it doesn’t matter what I’m spending the money on. Spending is spending. And I certainly don’t want to blow a large amount of my capital on hobbies 😀

    The ACA might not be around next year to help you out with premiums. You might see about getting residency in CA to take advantage of the low health insurance rates. Or TX, where you would have the added advantage of no State income tax, as well as the 4th lowest insurance rates in the USA.

    Yeah, it’d be a nice surprise if ACA is still here next year.. I’m currently a resident of South Dakota. They have no income tax (which I doubt would really matter as my earned income will be under or not much over $10k). Pretty cheap insurance. Registering the van is super easy (I can do it by mail every time. There is no smog test. And it’s cheap), and being an official resident is easy (only had to spend one night in the state). If I was going to switch states right now, I’d look close at Texas and especially Nevada, since Nevada is centrally located for where I expect to be over the next few years. Nearly all health plans have separate deductibles and shitty coverage rates for out of state care.

    I have some insurance I bought through the marketplace (in South Dakota, which is my state of residence). It’s a cheap, high-deductable plan. I expect I’ll get a large subsidy for it this year because my income is now very low. The price for the plan I use went up a LOT from 2016 to 2017, and it will probably get even worse for quite a while before it gets any better (if ever). Health insurance plans for a person traveling are tricky. Most of the plans are intended for people who reside nearly all the time in their state of residence. Plans have separate deductables for out of state costs. So, health insurance or healthcare is more expensive and more complicated for travelers. The most important thing, IMO, is to be healthy and fit and limit/delay expensive healthcare needs until late in life. For a person just getting started, this blog post has decent information: Other sites will have more information on what, if any, subsidy you get at different income levels. There is an important drop off at, I believe, an income of 4x the poverty level. I haven’t read this post, but I think it covers this “Subsidy Cliff” subject:

    Hi Travis,

    Loving your blog–checked it out a few times after you announced it on ERE, but the content keeps getting better!

    My wife and I are 30 and hoping to retire in the 33-35 range, possibly with a stage of RVing to start. However, all of my estimates from MPG costs make it sound like gas would be astronomically expensive. I see that your costs are relatively low, which makes me think you must be doing a fair bit of ‘slow travel’.

    Would you mind sharing the rough MPG you get in your van, how many miles you average per month, and how often/far you travel in a day or week? I imagine that one gets “moved on” a lot while freecamping in cities, although I would guess this also depends on how stealth your vehicle is.

    Hi Brent. That’s awesome. You’re really close!

    I was driving a lot early on in order to get from Denver to Seattle, and then a lot in the fall to get down south to warm weather. Here are some numbers:

    Since I quit, my average monthly miles driven are: 955
    I’ve slowed down the last few months, and now I’m driving about 400 miles per month.

    My van gets about 11mpg in the city, and up to 16 on flat smooth highways. Most newer vans get better milage. A fairly new vehicle towing a medium sized camper often gets about the same as my van.

    So, now that I’ve slowed down, with gas pretty cheap, I’m spending under $100 per month on it.

    I intentionally move through regions slowly and try to be efficient with my driving. When I go out of the city to camp, once I find my campsite, I try to stay put until I need to go get more food or water, which is about a week. So a weeklong camping trip might take about 100 miles of driving if I don’t go far to get there. If i just resupply in a small town near where I’m camped, that would reduce driving significantly further, to as little as 10 miles per week!

    In cities, I usually move the van 2-4 times per day. If I’m in a neighborhood I like and don’t go to a different part of town to visit family or for a date, I’ll drive 2-5 miles per day. In a big spread out city like Phoenix, I’ve driven to different parts of the city a bunch of times. When I’m doing that kind of thing, I average about 20 miles per day, which is still not all that much.

    Some people like to drive a lot because they want to “see it all”, or because they want/need to go visit family, or get back home for work, or whatever other reasons. I much prefer to go slow and stay put in one camping spot, and in one region for quite a while. This gives me a chance to get to know the area better, to truly see it rather than just drive straight through it. Also driving a lot and especially finding new campsites can be a hassle. I’d rather just stay put and relax. 😀


    Thanks for the in-depth response. I can’t wait to see future posts of how your travels and costs pan out (especially now that your fancy-pants super camera is going to be spread out over more and more months 😉 ).

    Good luck and have fun on!

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