What most people with a wanderlust ideal won’t realize is that it might sometimes be cheaper to travel the world in a camper van than to live in a big city.
Because the idea and the concept around vanlife is different for everyone, the costs are not always the same. There are several vandwellers who limit their costs to 500 euros per month thanks to an economical van, the right vanlife mindset, and a healthy lifestyle. Of course there are also other travelers who do not want to make any luxury compromises when traveling, so they spend more than 2000 euros in a single month.
In this article we clarify which costs are involved in vanlife, and what you should take into account when buying a van.
For most vandwellers – people who’re living in their van in order to travel the world – the cost of gasoline is one of the chunks in their monthly budget.
The monthly cost of gasoline actually depends on several aspects: The amount of distance that is being traveled, the size and age of the van, the country you are travelling, and the consumption of the motor.
When you’re buying a van to explore the roads, it might sometimes be worth it to buy and convert a totally new van than buying a used camper, because it will result in less consumption and thus less costs in the long term.
The best thing you can do is research the van you’re about to buy and make an educated guess about the gasoline costs that will be involved. This way, the cost of vanlife won’t surprise you.
Food, drinks, and eating out
For countries where gasoline isn’t that expensive – or for vehicles that are very fuel efficient – travelers won’t spend most of their money on fuel but rather on food, drinks and eating out.
We get it, when you’re discovering new parts of the world, you want to discover all the aspects: the local cuisine, the nightlife scene and the drinking games. Unfortunately, these come with a price tag.
To calculate and estimate the cost of your monthly consumption, you’ll have to take into account the cost of living in the country which you are visiting – just as the number of people you’re traveling with.
Making your own meals is almost always going to be cheaper than eating out. The trick here is to try to reduce your cost by adopting the zero-waste lifestyle, or by following Tomislav Perko’s tips on how to travel the world with almost no money.
Another important aspect of vanlife is to make sure you have a great insurance policy.
Nothing is scarier than being stuck in an international hospital where you can’t understand the language and have no one at your side. That’s why we always advise you to look into great car insurance, travel insurance and medical insurance policies.
The cost of these insurance policies depends on various aspects, which are mainly linked to your personal past: for car insurance they’ll want to know how many years you’ve driven damage-free, while for medical insurance they’ll want to know your medical history.
Parking & campsites
Throughout your adventure, you will be confronted with both free (primitive) campsites and paying campsites where external facilities (such as a shower, a washing machine, etc.) can be found.
Of course, there are several other parking options such as wild camping and camping with friends (or friends of friends), but sometimes you will want to check in to a hotel or a motel, because you feel the need to treat yourself.
Repairs, maintenance and fines
In an ideal world, you will never encounter an accident or incur a fine… but the odds are brutally stacked against you because you are traveling on the road every day. An easy example is that many European cities now have a low emission zone, which can be very disadvantageous to your budget over time.
Another cost that greatly depends on the age of your van is the cost of maintenance and repairs: It’s much easier (and thus cheaper) to find replacement parts for a van from 2020 compared to one from the nineties.
Finally, we should keep in mind that your personal driving style also has an effect on repairs, maintenance and fines. Defensive drivers will statistically incur fewer extra costs.
Most vandwellers have both a passive and an active income stream – where they keep working while they are traveling, just so they can extend their trip by a few months – so it is not uncommon for these entrepreneurs to purchase their new van with a great tax break by booking it as a company car.
This tax-operation saves them quite a bit of money, which they can reinvest in other stuff like paying for their accountant or invoicing system.
Each country and each van has its own tax calculation, so best to do your research and see what’s applicable for your region.
Visa and vignettes
Depending on the countries you’re about to travel, you’ll need a visa. In Europe, there is the Schengen Zone, which means that there are no border controls or restrictions when you’re traveling to countries within the Schengen Zone.
However, if you’re planning to drive around the Balkan states, you’ll most definitely need to obtain a travel visa.
Another cost that can really start adding up to your budget are road vignettes and tolls. The worst part of these costs? Most of them need to be paid instantly when entering the country. That’s why it’s best to prepare your research and to plan your trip in advance.
Wash your clothing
It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for two weeks or are a full-time van vandweller, your campervan will definitely not include a washing machine. Nevertheless, it remains important to wash your clothes – especially since there is little to no space to keep an entire wardrobe.
It’s important to find a system to keep clothes and bedding clean so your van feels comfortable, healthy, and smelling good. The easiest solution is to do your laundry in public laundromats, when you’re visiting the city. Another option could be to look into DIY money saving solutions.
Connectivity (Internet and mobile phones)
Finding local camping spots, checking yelp reviews, or just actively working while you’re on the world are so much easier to do with a decent internet connection.
The easiest solution is to find a good cellular internet data plan, which has decent coverage and gives you the option to enable a internet hotspot for your laptop.
Before you start living the vanlife, do your research!
Living on the road is not only magical and eye-opening, it also entails some monthly (hidden?) costs. Do as much research as possible before purchasing your van, this so you are sure that you can really afford the vanlife!