posted on June 2nd, 2019

What you should know before hitting the road

It’s one of the most frequently asked questions about Van Life. How much does it really cost to jump in feet first, and join the Van Life movement? A quick Google search will probably turn up some variation of “it depends.” But if you’re really considering going full Van Life, that answer probably just frustrated you even more, right?

While there is no definite answer to how much living the Van Life will cost you, there are a few things you should consider.

Costs of living the Van Life lifestyle

It seems pretty straightforward. Living in a converted van or an RV should cost you less than, say, the sky-high rent prices in the San Francisco Bay Area. But if you’re from Dayton, Ohio, where the average rent prices are less than $800 per month, the cost savings may not be as clear. 

A better way to look at whether you can afford the Van Life lifestyle is by listing all of your expenses, starting with your vehicle. Do you plan to buy and convert a van, or are you looking to move into your current vehicle, and just hit the road with what you have already?

If you are planning on converting a vehicle, what types of upgrades do you want to put into your car? Solar panels? A built-in cabinet to store your kitchen gadgets and your fridge? And what about your bed? The options are limitless. 

According to Parked in Paradise, a website run by three Van Lifers — Kate, Ian and their dog, Harper — who have spent the last two years living the Van Life while exploring the U.S., a realistic budget for someone looking to live a pretty minimal Van Life lifestyle would be about $850 per month. 

These Van Lifers bought a 1996 Dodge Ram B1500 on Craigslist for $3,200 and put in roughly $5,000 in improvements. They spent an additional $2,000 to repair the van after it broke down a couple of times.

In addition to the costs of the vehicle, there are other monthly expenses to account for, including health insurance, car insurance, your phone or hotspot, campground fees, and gas, just to name a few.

Nate and Steph, the Van Life couple behind the Explorist.Life, calculated their total monthly expenses to be about $2,500 per month, which also includes a gym membership, groceries, and mail services. That’s steep if you’re used to the cost of living in Dayton, but if you’ve been paying Silicon Valley rent prices, $2,500 to cover all of your living expenses per month can sound like a steal.

So it really does depend on you. What are you willing to live without? What’s essential for you to enjoy the experience of living on the road?

And for Nate and Steph, who went into the Van Life lifestyle after leaving the corporate world and their house in 2015, it’s really about the type of experience you want to get out of it. 

“ . . . our goal is not to live as cheaply as possible, it’s to experience as much as possible while we can.”

Making the Van Life work for you 

If you found this post after Googling “how much does Van Life cost,” then perhaps you’re looking to prepare, before taking the plunge into the lifestyle. So the first question to ask yourself is, do you have money saved up or are you currently living from paycheck to paycheck? 

Having a cushion of savings can go a long way, especially when emergency van repairs arise or a polar vortex forces you to stay at a campground, where you have to pay nightly hook up fees to stay warm.

Take some time to build up your cushion. If you’re itching for a break to enjoy some much-needed time to unplug and enjoy the great outdoors, check out the Van Life options available on Turo for a weekend or two away. Satisfy your wanderlust, get inspired by other DIY Van Lifers, but stay focused on your goal to save up, so you can finally take the plunge.

Working toward the life of a digital nomad

But what if your career isn’t something you can do remotely? If you’re open to changing careers, consider developing skills you can use to make money online. Or pick out certain skills and experiences you already have and explore how you can use it for jobs online.

Sign up to be a freelancer on sites like WeworkRemotely or Upwork, and start connecting with the Digital Nomad community

There are a growing number of Facebook groups dedicated to helping freelance copywriters find jobs all over the world. If writing isn’t your thing, check out groups for search engine optimization (SEO) professionals, virtual assistants, bookkeeping, engineers, photographers — you get the point. Maybe you could even luck and live the Van Life while being an Oscar-winning director like Jimmy Chin.

And if those options don’t sound appealing to you, there are tons of companies that support remote employees, as long as they know you are available to get the work done.

To be a true digital nomad (or someone who is completely location independent to do their job) requires discipline and focus. Working in your pajamas is definitely a perk, though. 

But more important, securing fulfilling remote work will help you save money, afford the cost of  Van Life, and at the same time, allow you to enjoy the laid-back lifestyle that seems to ooze out of every #vanlife photo.

From uncertainty to living the Van Life

So is it possible? Can you afford the Van Life? Well, it depends on you.

There’s a lot of uncertainty when you’re about to embark on a big journey or lifestyle change. Did Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee know what they were going to face when they left the Shire? Did Doctor Strange know what he’d find when he set out to seek a cure for his hands? Did Sandra Bullock’s character in “Birdbox” know what to expect when she blindfolded her kids? Nope, not at all. Did the uncertainty stop them? Absolutely not.

With the help of the growing Van Life community and stories from experienced Van Lifers like Nate and Steph or Kate, Ian, and Harper, it shouldn’t stop you, either.

Learn from their experiences, connect with the Van Life community, and take the lifestyle for a test drive with Turo for the weekend to see if you can really see yourself enjoying the Van Life.*

*Keep in mind that you need to stick to paved roads if you book a van on Turo since offroading violates the Turo Terms of Service.