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In 2020, Living the Van Life Is More Appealing Than Ever Before. Here's What You Can Expect to Pay Thumbnail

In 2020, 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 during the pandemic, with more and more companies offering remote work as a permanent option. Air travel has been restricted or discouraged, meaning more families are opting for road trips or camping as a means to unplug and unwind.

With the world shifting to a more virtual way of living for the foreseeable future, you may no longer be limited to living in or near a certain area. As a result, it could be 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 percent live part-time in their van, while 49 percent live full-time on the road.1   

The van life works for people of all ages and lines of work, from those with a nine to five to freelancers, contractors and even retirees. 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 Cost of 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, the most popular vehicles used include:

  • Cargo van (43 percent)
  • Passenger van (18 percent)
  • Hippie van / VW (13 percent)
  • Bus (8 percent)
  • RV (6 percent)
  • Other vehicle type (12 percent)1

If you’re looking to save costs, you’ll want to go with a used vehicle. These can be found in a number of places including local auctions, classifieds, online selling sites and more. If you do choose to buy a used vehicle, be sure to have a trusted mechanic (who is familiar with the vehicle type) conduct a thorough inspection. 

Average Amount You Should Expect to Spend 

The type of vehicle people use can vary greatly. If you’re looking for a used school bus, for example, expect to spend anywhere between $20,000 and $70,000 depending on the year, model and mileage. Smaller vehicles, like cargo vans, could run you somewhere between $10,000 and $40,000 - again depending on mileage, year, make, etc.

Expense #2: Van Remodeling

When it comes to remodeling, the sky’s the limit. 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 also likely depend on how you intend on using it. If it’s going to be your permanent home for the foreseeable future, you’ll likely want to include more amenities. If you’re simply using it on the weekends for camping and cooking, a remodel will be less extensive. 

In your remodeling, expect to cover expenses such as: 

  • Insulation
  • Electricity & wifi
  • Shower, toilet, sink installation
  • Stovetops & kitchen appliance installation
  • Beds and bedding  
  • Tables for eating/working
  • Window treatments

Average Amount You Should Expect to Spend 

If you’re looking at a fairly basic remodel - mattress platform, curtains, electricity, etc. - you should still be prepared to spend 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 percent)
  • $1,000 to $5,000 (31 percent)
  • $5,001 to $10,000 (24 percent)
  • $10,001 to $20,000 (17 percent)
  • $20,001 to $40,000 (8 percent)
  • Over $40,000 (3 percent)1 

Expense #3: Van Upkeep

If you’re already car savvy or learn how to do basic car repairs before going on the trip, this can be helpful and cost-effective while on the road. This could include learning to change a tire, checking your oil and other basic tasks. Other than that, you’ll want to budget for both regular maintenances of your van and establish an emergency fund for unexpected repairs.   

    Average Amount you Should Expect to Spend: 

    Depending on your vehicle type and location, regular maintenance costs could include:

    • Oil Change: between $25-$50
    • Tire Change: between $50-$200 per tire2 

    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 what a typical hourly rate is in that area and search for a shop with reasonable prices and a good reputation.

    Expense #4: Travel Costs

    This should come as no surprise - the more you drive, the more gas you’ll use. Depending on your location and current prices, gas costs can take up a significant portion of your monthly budget.  

    This will also vary significantly depending on what type of vehicle you drive - typically the larger the van, the more gas it’ll take to run. 

    Average Amount you Should Expect to Spend: 

    Find out approximately how much gas your van’s tank will hold and search for typical gas prices in the areas you’ll be heading to. For example, in August 2020, the average price of gas in Arizona was $2.32. If your cargo van’s tank holds 25 gallons, it’ll cost you approximately $58 to fill it up. Say your van gets about 12 miles per gallon, you can expect to go around 300 miles on one fill-up. Running the numbers before hitting the road can help you maintain a realistic idea of how much you’ll be spending on gas per week, month or during each individual trip. 

    Expense #5: The Cost of Parking

    Often overlooked, parking in certain areas can cost money - 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. Most Walmarts, for example, 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. You’ll want to be sure to check ahead of time as well, as some campsites require reservations - and with more people camping during COVID-19, availability may be limited. 

    Average Amount you Should Expect to Spend: 

    If you’re looking to camp at an RV campground, the average cost is between $25 and $80 per night.3 If you’d like to spend overnight in a national park, campsite fees will typically run between $30 and $50 per night.4    

    Expense #6: The Cost of Living

    This is where your expenses can really start to add up if you don’t plan accordingly.  Some things that you should expect to pay for are:

    • Food and Groceries
    • Laundry
    • Showering
    • Storage
    • Internet

    Average Amount you Should Expect to Spend: 

    You should expect to pay around $500-$800 per month on these expenses, but it can vary.2 

    Expense #7: Repairs and Unexpected Costs

    Unexpected costs are a part of everyday life, as you have learned from your own health, owning a home or car or anything else. Life costs money, meaning it’s important to be prepared. 

    What Will You Do For Income?

    Did you save enough money where you won’t need to work for a few months or longer? While some travel without working, many people living on the road will need to bring in some type of income in order to maintain this lifestyle. 

    Many people are freelance writers, artists or designers, meaning the only requirement needed 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.

    If you want to live a life of adventure, then the van life might just be for you. In order to make it a smooth and stress-free transition, be sure to account for the costs outlined above. When you’re ready to live the van life, start planning, saving and budgeting strategically to create a memorable and cost-effective experience. 

    1. https://outboundliving.com/van-life-statistics/
    2. https://www.angieslist.com/articles/how-much-does-oil-change-cost.htm#:~:text=According%20to%20Angie's%20List%20pricing,typically%20costs%20%2420%20to%20%2455
    3. https://camperreport.com/average-rv-campground-rates-much-expert-per-night/#:~:text=In%20general%2C%20RV%20campsites%20cost,costs%20about%20%2445%20a%20night
    4. https://rvshare.com/blog/national-park-pass/#:~:text=If%20you%20wish%20to%20camp,the%20site%20size%20and%20hookups

    This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information, and provided by Twenty Over Ten. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.


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