I need to start this post off by telling you all that I have no interest whatsoever in living in a van. I’ve seen a lot of my readers talking about van life, but it’s not for me… at all. I like the sprawl of my house, showers whenever I want, and I’m not sure Coral could stay married to me if we lived in a van.
That being said, when I see #vanlife posts on Instagram, with people working out of the back of their van while it’s parked on a beach or next to some incredible mountain range, there is something kind of attractive about it. And, the van conversions some people are doing look really freaking awesome. Hardwood floors and countertops, loft beds, even skylights. Seriously, most of these vans look 100x better than most millennial’s first apartments.
Amazing van conversions aside, I have SOOOOOOOO many questions about van life. Like, where do you go to the bathroom? What do you do with all of your stuff? Do you still get weird neighbors? What if you have pets? What if you and your spouse have a fight and she’s ready to kill you but you live in a van?
If you’re living the van life, please, please answer those questions. Like I said, I’m not doing it anytime soon, but I genuinely want to know more about it because I hear about so many millennials talking about it these days.
I’m going to guess that more and more millennials are living in vans and traveling full-time because more of us are working remotely as freelancers or running online businesses. It can also be significantly less expensive than renting or owning a house, and we all know how expensive that is with the amount of student loan debt many of us have left college with.
Related M$M articles:
But, before you sell all of your worldly possessions and move into a van, there are a few things you should probably be thinking of.
I’m serious about this too. I hear from way too many people who are like “Bobby, you said this was a neat idea, so I did it and it sucks!” You can’t just read stuff on the internet and base your choices on what a couple of people write on blog posts or post on Instagram. Like any serious decision, you need to weigh out the pros and cons.
Cue up Chris Farley’s “living in a van down by the river” thing… and let’s start talking about what you’re going to need to think about from a financial perspective.
Van Life: The costs you’ll need to consider
Your pre-van living situation
Most of the stories I hear about people who chose van life over living in a traditional home start with them deciding to sell their house before moving into a van. That would be the smartest thing. But, if there is going to be a lapse in the time between getting rid of your current place and hitting the road, you may incur some extra costs.
Selling your house won’t happen overnight… okay, it could happen overnight if you live in a really desirable area, but that’s not everyone. Depending on what the housing market looks like in your area, it might take weeks or months to sell your place.
If you haven’t sold your house or finished a lease, then you might be still paying a mortgage, rent, a fee to get out your lease, etc. To avoid these extra costs, always make sure that you have a plan before moving into your van.
The actual van
This one is really hard to even go into because there are so many options for the types of vans you could buy. You could find a really rough, old one for around $3,000, but you’ll probably be sinking some serious money in it before it’s actually liveable.
New ones are going to be considerably more expensive too, and here are a few of the most popular options:
- Ford Transit– These start around $32,000.
- Mercedes Sprinter– Ooohhh, Mercedes… While they start at just under $40,000 (just, haha!), they quickly get more expensive if you want something larger.
- Ram Promaster– These look pretty similar to the first two, but a little less expensive at about $29,000.
- Chevy Express– This is what comes to my mind when thinking about cargo vans, as in not super sleek. They start at about $31,000.
Those are all new models, but you can find something used for much less, and you probably know how I feel about used cars (spoiler, I love them!) Getting a used van to pimp out for your van life dreams is probably going to save you some serious cash.
With whatever you buy, you’ll want to read reviews, know what to expect when it comes to repair costs, etc. Because the actual van you choose is going to be one of the largest costs you encounter, so take some time to really consider what you’re getting yourself into.
Making it livable
All of those amazing van conversions you’ve seen online have taken a lot of money and time to make them look that way. As van life has gotten more and more popular, there are even companies out there who will convert your van for you or sell van conversions that are ready to move into.
When I was writing this article I got a little distracted looking at some sweet van conversions. I don’t know, I might want to try van life out at some point. Here are some of the ones I found and the costs.
- Tony Two Doors $59,800
- Here’s a company in Oregon doing conversions and their van conversion price list by item.
- Crevasse $155,594 Ummmm… That’s a house!
- Envy $28,500, but that doesn’t include the van, that’s just the conversion.
You could totally convert the van yourself, and yours doesn’t need to be as boujee as those ones are. There are really too many factors to quantify into a cost for making a van liveable on your own, but some of the things you’ll want to think about our heating and cooling, insulation, the living space you want, etc.
Think about how you are going to use your van and what creature comforts will be important to have.
What to do with your stuff
Yo bro, van life means we’re going full-on minimalist, like we don’t have “stuff” anymore.
Alright, that’s cool. But if you aren’t selling everything, then what are you going to do with the rest of your worldly possessions?
Maybe you have really nice parents who will let you store your stuff in their attic while you travel, but if you don’t, then storing your things may cost you. The most popular option is renting a storage unit, and those can cost around a couple hundred dollars a month depending on the size of the unit you need.
On the flipside, if you decide to sell everything that won’t fit into your van, then you might make a decent amount of money.
Most of the van life converts I know are working online in some capacity, and that means that having a good internet connection is one of the most important parts of traveling full-time. While some campgrounds may have free wifi, you’re going to need more than just that if you are working online.
Mobile hotspots are really the best option for digital nomads. I have a good blogger friend who travels full-time and they use a Verizon Jetpack MiFi, which costs around $99, and then there is also the cost of a good service provider. There are a lot of other options out there but read the reviews.
Because your health insurance is likely tied to the state you live in, meaning things like in-network providers, etc. finding a health insurance option is going to be a major part of van life.
No matter what you think about health insurance, it’s a necessity.
Fortunately, health share providers are an excellent option for full-time travelers. My wife and I actually switched to a health sharing company after I left my teaching job and we’ve been really happy so far.
The rates are typically lower than traditional health insurance companies, but they’re not for everyone. To learn more, read Is a Health Care Sharing Ministry Right for You?.
Vans are big vehicles, so that means they are going to eat gas like I eat tacos. Your van might even get worse gas mileage than my Yukon, so make sure you factor this cost into your van life budget.
The nice thing about fuel costs is that you can adjust your traveling schedule to save on money on gas if you need to. If you’re willing to stay put in one spot for a while, then you aren’t spending as much on fuel.
Car insurance? Homeowners insurance? Which is it?
I’ve heard that insuring your campervan can be tricky, but it’s really important that you have coverage. The problem you’ll encounter with ensuring your van is that some of the biggest companies won’t insure them because it’s too risky.
Your van could be as expensive as a home, and you’re driving it, and it’s full of your possessions.
I would start by contacting your current insurance company to see what type of coverage they offer and make sure they know you are living in your van. If you want to be legit about it and have them actually cover your stuff if something happens, then you will need to be honest about what you’re doing.
Extra travel expenses for events and emergencies
If you are a millennial who lives close to your family and friends, then choosing van life might be a huge adjustment when it comes to how often you are able to see them. With things like FaceTime and Skype, it’s really easy to communicate face-to-face (sort of) with your loved ones, but there are still going to be things you may need to travel home for.
Maybe you have a friend who’s getting married in Vegas all of a sudden. What if one of your parents gets sick? What about the holidays?
You could obviously drive home for some of those things, but in an emergency or for last minute things, you might need to get there faster, so make sure you have money set aside for those types of travel expenses.
Maintenance and major repairs
Just like any home, or car… whoa, it’s both… you’ll need to have enough set aside in an emergency fund to cover routine maintenance and repairs, especially unexpected ones. Any type of repair is going to add an extra level of difficulty to van life because it’s both your home and vehicle.
Beyond the repair costs, you might need to rent a car or rideshare, and you might even need to find an alternative living situation in the meantime. Also, what about all your stuff?? If you are living in a van and have dealt with this, please tell me what you did in the comments.
Cost to park your van
Van life isn’t just driving off to some remote beach and parking it for free forever. Parking is going to be sort of like your rent while living in your van, and the costs will vary depending on where you want to visit.
Campgrounds and RV parks are obvious options, and you can usually find slightly cheaper options if you choose a week-to-week or month-to-month timeframe. If you are staying somewhere in the high season, like trying to get somewhere warm in the winter months, then you might even pay a premium.
There are also state and national parks, and you can save some money by being a camp host at some state parks. That might come with duties, but it could shave some money off of your overall costs.
Parking your van for free on private property might also be an option, and this could involve helping keep an eye on things. The downside of this is that you might not have access to some of the amenities (showers and toilets) that parks and campgrounds offer.
This might be one of the biggest things that eat into your van life budget, and you are probably going to realize a ton of hidden or unexpected costs when choosing to live in a van.
I know van life is highly romanticized as this beautiful but cheap lifestyle, but there are going to be some things you probably aren’t thinking of when it comes to the total cost of van life. Even things like doing your laundry will cost you. And before you tell me that you can wash your laundry in your van sink and hang it out to dry between trees, I know that’s a thing. But, are you actually going to do that all of the time? That’s awesome if you are, but I’m just bringing this up.
While your van conversion will probably offer some type of kitchen set-up, you may still find yourself going out to eat more often, and those amounts can add up over time. I mean, when I travel, trying the local food is a big part of my itinerary.
Another cost consideration is if you need to get around in something besides your van. Choosing a van over an RV means it’s much easier to park and get around in, but maybe you’ve got your van all set up for the week but need to Uber or Lyft somewhere. That’s all the extra money.
The bottom line– you can’t put an exact cost on van life
Honestly, this is the same with choosing a more traditional living situation, and while living in a van might be an awesome way to save money while traveling, it’s still going to cost you some money.
Just like any major life decision, it will be really important to weigh out all of the pros and cons, think about all of the possible costs, and just sit on that for a while before coming to a conclusion.
I don’t want to deter anyone from living the life they want, but I do want to make sure you go into it with a clear head and logical thinking.