The Ultimate Guide to Van Life Costs: How to Budget for Life on the Road

Are you considering the exciting journey of van life, but wondering just how much it’s going to cost you? Well, you’re not alone. “How much does van life cost?” is one of the most common questions that prospective van lifers ask, and the answer is as varied as the open road itself. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll break down the common expenses associated with van life and help you create a budget that suits your unique lifestyle so you know all about van life costs.

The Ultimate Guide to Van Life Costs: How to Budget for Life on the Road

Van life is an adventure like no other, offering the freedom to explore the world at your own pace. But before you hit the road, it’s essential to understand the financial aspects of this lifestyle. Your van life expenses will depend on various factors, including your travel style, the van you choose, and your personal preferences.

The Ultimate Guide to Van Life Costs: How to Budget for Life on the Road

Budgets Vary Greatly

The first thing to understand is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “How much does van life cost?” Budgets for van life can vary greatly from person to person, and that’s the beauty of it. With proper planning and budgeting, van life can be as affordable or as luxurious as you desire.

Choosing the Right Van

When it comes to your van, it’s crucial to stay within your means. You don’t have to break the bank on a fancy van to enjoy the van life experience. Some van lifers spend as little as $800 per month, while others may spend around $1500-$2000 per month. This includes expenses like gas, van insurance, health insurance, phone bills, food, dining out, camping fees, and more, excluding the initial cost of the van.

The Cost of Van Conversion

While we primarily focus on daily expenses in this guide, it’s essential to mention the upfront cost of the van, as it’s one of the significant expenses. Fortunately, you can find a van that suits your budget, no matter how much you have to spend. Here are some rough estimates for popular panel-style vans used for conversions:

  • Dodge Promaster: Starting at around $41,000.
  • Ford Transit: Starting at around $48,000.
  • Mercedes Sprinter (4×4): Starting at around $66,000.

Additionally, don’t forget about taxes and registration fees, which can add several hundred dollars to your initial van purchase. If you opt for an extended warranty, that’s another expense to consider.

Going the DIY Route

If you’re on a tighter budget, consider buying a used van, either empty or already converted. Many resourceful van lifers have successfully DIYed their conversions for as low as $10,000-$20,000. Shopping for materials, using second-hand items, and doing the work yourself can save a substantial amount of money. Keep in mind that prices for materials, especially lumber, can fluctuate.

Hiring a Conversion Company

Alternatively, you can hire a conversion company to handle the van build for you. Prices can vary significantly based on factors like their experience, the complexity of the build, and the quality of materials used. Newer conversion companies might charge around $60,000-$90,000, while more experienced ones with hundreds of projects under their belt may charge $125,000-$250,000 or more. Remember that quality often comes with a higher price tag.

Finding Your Own Path

It’s essential to understand that there’s no one “right” way to do van life. What matters most is that you tailor your van life experience to your preferences and budget. Some van lifers find happiness in simple, budget-friendly setups, while others invest in fully decked-out vans. Ultimately, the choice is yours, as long as it aligns with your financial situation and brings you happiness.

Daily Van Life Costs

Beyond the van itself, you’ll encounter various common expenses when living or traveling in your van. Keep in mind that these are rough estimates meant to provide an idea of typical van life costs.

1. Gas

The cost of filling up your tank can range from approximately $200 to $600 per month. Factors influencing this expense include your van’s fuel efficiency, gas prices, and your travel distance.

2. Campsites

Camping costs can also vary widely. Most paid campsites average between $15 and $30 per night. Your expenses will depend on how often you choose paid campsites over free dispersed sites. If you opt for paid campsites every night, you could be looking at $450-$900 per month.

3. RV Insurance

Insurance costs for converted Sprinter Vans, for example, may be around $1,500 to $2,000 per year, depending on your policy and the value of your van and its contents.

4. Health Insurance

Health insurance premiums can range from $100 to $450 per month, depending on your health and income level. Special programs like Medicaid or federal tax breaks may be available based on your income, and seniors should consider Medicare.

5. Phone Bill

Phone bills typically range from $30 to $100 per month, depending on your provider and data plan. If you need reliable internet access, you may need a more expensive plan with unlimited data.

6. Gym Membership

Many van lifers opt for gym memberships to access showers while on the road. Gym fees can start at approximately $22 per month, depending on the gym chain.

7. Groceries/Food

Food expenses can vary widely based on your preferences. Organic, high-end groceries may cost more, while budget-conscious shopping and cooking your meals can reduce costs. Expect monthly food expenses to range from $600 to $800 for two people.

8. Additional Expenses

Don’t forget to budget for miscellaneous expenses, such as National or State Park fees, paid activities, vehicle maintenance, showers, laundry, streaming services, propane, and personal items. Having a buffer for these extra costs can help you enjoy your van life journey without unexpected financial surprises.


Van life is a fulfilling adventure that can be tailored to your preferences and budget. While it’s essential to plan and budget carefully, remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Whether you’re a minimalist or prefer a bit more luxury on the road, van life offers flexibility and the opportunity to explore the world on your terms.

So, before you embark on your van life journey, assess your financial situation, set a budget, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Happy travels!

Take a look at more van life stuff here.

Written by doc cotton

Meet Doc Cotton, your go-to founder of NowShack and a goto for all things adventurous and outdoorsy. With an unwavering passion for van life and a deep connection to the great outdoors, Doc is your trusted guide to exploring the world off the beaten path.

Doc's journey began with a fascination for the freedom and simplicity that van life offers. From there, it was a natural progression to spend countless hours prepping and converting vans into cozy, mobile homes on wheels. Whether it's turning an old van into a comfortable living space or sharing tips on the best gear for outdoor adventures, Doc has you covered.

But Doc Cotton is not just about life on the road; he's also a dedicated student of survival skills. Always eager to learn and share, Doc's insights into wilderness survival and bushcraft are invaluable for anyone looking to connect with nature on a deeper level.