Since buying and building out our campervan in 2022, people have been consistently asking us, “How much does it actually cost to travel in a campervan?”
To be clear, buying and building out a campervan was expensive! All in, we spent over $150,000. But, we knew this was an investment in ourselves. We hoped that this upfront investment would allow us to travel frequently and live an adventurous lifestyle in an affordable way.
But, we weren’t ready to answer this question until now. In 2022, we took a few weekend trips, a week-long trip to Vermont, and a 3-week trip to Maritime Canada. But, we were still getting the hang of vanlife.
Now that we’ve just returned from a 15-week trip, we finally feel ready to share how much it actually costs to travel in a campervan.
Before we jump in, I’d like to give a disclaimer. We know that our individual experiences cannot apply in all scenarios. One important thing to know is that we are not particularly frugal (instead, we focus on values-based spending). We know so many people living vanlife who spend way less than we do.
Our 3 ½ Month Road Trip
This was our first multi-month road trip in our campervan. In February, Corey quit his job. In March, we hit the road. For the last 3 months, I scaled back and only worked about 15 hours/week. This allowed us to focus more fully on the adventure.
Because of this, we traveled faster and further than we expect we’ll do in the future in the same amount of time.
During our 15-week trip, we:
- Visited 19 states (only counting states we did at least one overnight), including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and New York
- Crossed 35 state lines
- Explored 11 US National Parks (Cuyahoga, White Sands, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Rocky Mountain) and countless other parks or historical sites
- Drove over 11,000 miles
During the trip, we stayed at each destination for 4-6 days. This was long enough that we didn’t feel rushed, but we hope to spend more time in each destination in the future. If we do so, it could help us reduce costs significantly.
Road Trip Costs to Consider When Traveling in a Campervan
If you are considering traveling in a campervan, there are a few important costs to consider, including:
Since we traveled so far and so often, fuel was a large expense. Over the course of our 15-week trip, we spent $1,895.59 on fuel. This comes out to be $126/week on average.
Our fuel costs were highest at the beginning and end of our trip when we were traveling from Boston to New Mexico and when we were traveling from Colorado back to Boston. We had a series of long travel days. Once we were out west, though, most of our travel days were between 2-4 hours.
In the future, there are a few ways we could reduce fuel costs:
- Traveling to destinations that are closer to our home on the east coast
- Staying in each location for a longer period of time
- Traveling less far between destinations
One of the reasons we love our van is that it’s off-grid capable. This means that we rarely, if ever, need to rely on hookups at campgrounds.
You might be wondering what actually makes our van off-grid capable:
- Water – we have 35 gallons of fresh water on board that we refill about once/week
- Electricity – we have a large battery bank that can power everything we need (including a microwave, hot water heater, and an induction stove) that is charged by our solar panels and when we drive the van.
- Waste – We have tanks to collect gray water from the sink and shower. We have a composting toilet, which means that we don’t have any black water (or sewage) on board.
Because our van in off-grid capable, we were able to spend the majority of our time camping for free on public lands, staying at Harvest Host sites, and parking in friends’ driveways.
Over the course of our 103-night trip, we spent 43 nights in traditional campgrounds. All in, we spent $1,237.48 on lodging expenses. On average, this comes out to be about $82/week for lodging (though the nights we spent camping for free bring the average down quite a bit).
During the trip, we realized that we enjoyed the dispersed (free) camping on public lands a lot more than staying in traditional campgrounds. They usually offered incredible views, and it was a lot more peaceful with fewer people nearby.
As much as possible, we will prioritize dispersed/free camping in the future.
Note: There are a few places where it makes sense to stay in campgrounds, and we will continue to do so in these cases:
- In states/locations where there is minimal dispersed/free camping
- For national parks that have timed entry requirements, such as Arches and Rocky Mountain National Parks; for us, it was just easier to stay in the parks and not deal with the daily hassle.
- When dispersed campsites are long distances from the places we want to explore
- If the weather is still cold or snowy, and we aren’t sure what the road conditions will be
When traveling in a van, groceries tend to be more expensive than when you are at home. This is likely true for a few reasons:
- You can’t stock up when things are cheap
- You are usually buying the smallest size of each item, which is often more expensive
- If you are traveling in rural or remote locations, groceries can be a lot more expensive (we learned this the hard way in southern Utah)
Over the course of our trip, we spent $2,096.65 on groceries. This comes out to $140/week on average.
In order to keep our costs down in the future, we’re planning to:
- Stock up (within reason) on staples while we are in populated areas (even if we need to store food in weird places in the van) since groceries are so much more expensive in rural areas
- Shop for longer periods of time (7-10 days instead of 5-7 days) and make do with what we have until we make the next grocery stop
Besides this, we will continue to use the same strategies we use at home to reduce our food spending.
Restaurants and Cideries
We cook the vast majority of our own meals when we travel in our van. Over the course of the trip, we ate out 1-2x/week. There were some weeks where we didn’t eat out at all and others (especially when visiting family and friends) where we ate out multiple times (or even treated them to dinner).
We also love to visit craft cideries across the country. We visited cideries in Utah, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. The costs of cider tasting or buying cider to go are included in this category.
Over the course of our 15-week adventure, we spent $2,036.12 on restaurants/cideries. This comes out to be $136/week.
This spending was well worth it for us to experience the local food and cider scene. We won’t plan to reduce this in the future.
The vast majority of the activities that we enjoy while traveling are free or very low cost. We love to walk around, explore parks and other natural areas, hike, and drive on scenic routes.
During our trip, we chose to do a few unique experiences:
- Explored (non-National) Parks (with entry fees), including tribal and state parks in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.
- Played some awesome disc golf courses, including a few that are listed in the top 100 in the world.
- Took a guided tour of Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona
- Rented E-bikes at the Grand Canyon
- Rode the Cog Railway Train up to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, CO
These experiences were totally worth the money. All in, we spent $630.85 on experiences while traveling. That comes out to be $42/week.
I’d be happy to spend even more on high-quality experiences in the future.
One thing we’ve learned is that when you are traveling in a van or any kind of RV, there are issues that will come up. During our 3 ½ month trip, we needed to resolve issues with our:
- Water filtration system
- Water Pump
- Toilet Vent/Fan
- After-market deadbolt locking system
There were a few issues that we caused (whoops). Some were a result of faulty products or faulty installation that we hadn’t uncovered yet because the van is still so new.
Over the course of the trip, we spent $1,497.49 on maintenance. That comes out to be $100/week.
We are hopeful that we’ve worked through many of the kinks and that we’ll have fewer problems in the future.
How Much Does it Cost to Travel in a Campervan?
During our 15-week road trip, we spent a total of $9,394.18.
As you can see, this comes out to be $626.28 per week! That’s usually less than even one round-trip flight (depending on where you go)! I must say this is not too shabby for what felt like an epic 3 ½ month adventure.
To be clear, we only included our actual travel costs over the course of the 15-week trip. We did not include our regular at-home costs for things like our mortgage, utilities, cell service, internet, insurance, and regular charitable giving. We also didn’t include annual costs for things like our national park pass ($80/year) or our Harvest Host membership ($99/year).
This does mean that our overall expenses for these months were a bit higher. We are also considering ways to reduce these regular costs during future trips, such as seeing if we can rent out our condo in Boston to a travel nurse (or another similar professional).
What do you think? Could you travel in a van for an extended period of time? Do you think you’d spend more or less?