How much does it cost to live in a minivan camper?
Before we hit the road in Red Delicious, we researched this cost question but got few answers. A blogger even asked us this in an interview for Yahoo! about van dwelling. It’s the question on everyone’s mind!
Most full-time travelers are tight-lipped about their income and expenses. (The Professional Hobo is an exception.) It’s probably because people are uncomfortable airing their finances, but it is more likely because:
It just depends. There is no definitive answer.
What We Pay for Campsites and Other Accommodations
We’ve been tracking the costs since January 11, 2015 and, in the spirit of helping current and future van dwellers, here’s what we spend: a quarter of what we spent on housing alone in San Francisco.
(Keep reading for the story behind the numbers and average cost per category.)
What We’ve Learned: The Story Behind the Numbers
When we first started van living, we weren’t sure where we’d be parking. Stealth camping in urban areas? Dispersed camping on BLM land? State and county parks? So we experimented.
After doing this for eight months so far, here’s what you should know:
- Geography matters. The west has been cheaper overall. Parks in the south and southeast cater to RVs which need water, sewer and electric, making cheaper, tent-only sites scarce. Also, we’re doing this in the U.S. — we’d likely spend less elsewhere.
- Save for a rainy/freezing/lousy day. You never know when you’ll hit a couple days of 25 degree weather and need to grab a motel room. #toocold
- Know your travel style. We like to get Airbnbs every so often. This brings our average nightly cost higher, but it’s worth it to us to meet locals and explore a town.
- Avoid RV parks and private campgrounds like the plague. They’ll try to lure you in with Wi-Fi, but, trust us, it doesn’t work. Sometimes you can’t avoid them though. You’ll be crammed in like a sardine with very few trees because they block RVers’ satellite TV.
- Be realistic. We could spend less by doing more free camping and staying off the grid in the wilderness. We would love to do that, but it’s harder for us to work that way. Spend money to make money, as they say.
Our campsite at Valley of the Rogue State Park in Oregon
Rule of Thumb: Camping/Parking Costs by Category
- Hardcore Hobo (Free-$5/night)
- Stealth camping in neighborhoods
- Walmart parking lots
- Dispersed camping on BLM or Forest Service land
- Highway rest stops
- Homes of friends/family
- Penny Pincher ($6-18/night)
- Some county parks
- BLM campgrounds
- Forest Service campgrounds
- High Roller ($19-30/night)
- Some county parks
- State parks
- National parks
- Hardly Counts as Camping ($30+/night)
- RV parks
- Privately owned campgrounds, e.g. KOAs
What Do You Think?
Do these numbers surprise you? How would you cut parking costs? Upset we’re hating on RV parks and KOAs? Let us know in the comments. Thanks!
Tugboat pulling some logs near the San Juan Islands in Washington
“That cow has glasses!”
A look into the Tillamook cheese factory
Nightmare campground neighbors
Climber rappelling off world’s most phallic rock at Smith Rock State Park in Oregon
Smith Rock State Park in Oregon is like a mini Grand Canyon
With our friends Eliza, Jon and Marjo in Bend, Oregon
Crater Lake, one of the deepest, clearest lakes in the world
The Pinnacles in Crater Lake National Park, where volcanic gasses escaped and formed permanent formations
Chris celebrates 35 with a spiked hot cocoa at the Crater Lake lodge