I shared a post the other day talking about how @clmbrlifr and I are going to return to full-time #vanlife in short order. It'll be my second stint in a van in the last three years and Paul’s return to his old dirtbag roots after working corporate for the last three decades: he used to be an itinerant climber in his twenties.
Financing life on the road
‘How do you make it work financially?’ is one of the questions that I get asked most frequently these days. (Side note: this is quite the contrast to my first vanlife move when the most common question was ‘But where do you go to the bathroom?’, ha. I'm glad to have moved on to more substantive topics!)
Based on the conversations I have had and inquiries I’ve gotten on social media, I think there are three separate finances-related questions that are all worth addressing. They are:
- How much does vanlife cost?
- Do you need a fat savings account to move into a van or do you make money by working from the road? If you continue to work, how do you do it?
- How can you start earning an income as a story-teller or athlete in the outdoor industry?
Let me know if I’m missing any sub-questions. In the meantime, I’m going to share my answer to each of the above in a three-post mini series, starting with the cost of vanlife right here.
1. How much does #vanlife cost?
It all depends. Wait, before you stop reading - let me get more concrete. There is no upward limit on how much you can spend on a van and life on the road… but here are some real numbers to demonstrate how cheaply you can do it while still being comfortable:
There are a few things worth mentioning when looking at the above figures.
My solo setup was laid out to be as easy and cheap as humanly possible - I bought an old Chevy Astro van with 200k miles on it, took out the seats and constructed a simply platform system with a bed and storage. No insulation, no solar, no bells and whistles. It was basic, but it was enough for me and I loved living in Eddie the Van.
The two-person setup that Paul and I have chosen this time around is a major upgrade. We bought Merlot the Van, a 2003 Ford E350 XL with a high top that’s plenty big for two people; the build-out is much more comprehensive with insulation, solar, roof vent, proper window dressings, a captain’s chair and the like. The van is still a far cry from a fully tricked-out, all-new Sprinter - but we would both rather spend less money on the van upfront and have more of a financial cushion to enjoy worry- (and work-)free time on the road.
As far as the monthly cost-of-living budget goes: $1000 / month worked well enough for me solo as long as I didn’t drive maniacally all over the country, but it did not include health insurance. It’s also important to note that I was debt-free at the time I hit the road: I had worked my butt off to pay back my student loans over the course of the prior four years, and none of my credit cards carried a balance when I first hit the road. Our new combined monthly budget now includes health insurance for two, but once again is a ‘debt-free’ setup.
Unless you have a well-paying job coupled with an-already decent savings account, getting set up to quit the 9-to-5 and start unstructured life on the road doesn’t happen overnight:
- I gave myself almost an entire year between making up my mind that I would hit the road and actually doing it.
- Paul and I have been talking about and working towards this new vanlife stint for the last 18 months.
All the lead time in between was dedicated towards saving money by renting as a cheap a place as we could find, curtailing any unnecessary expenses, finding/building our new home and downsizing to get ready for the move.
Of course you can cut down your lead time, and the amount of savings required to quit your traditional day job, by setting yourself up to work from the road and try to earn a living while traveling. How to think about savings vs. working on the road (and popular options for making money on the road) will be the subject of my next post in this series; stay tuned!
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PS - Feel free to let me know if the above is helpful and/or if there are additional questions that you'd like me to address.