Living full-time in a van is very different to living in a home, and of course, constantly being on the move comes at a cost. Although you are no longer spending money on rent or bills, other expenses can certainly add up. If money is what determines the length of your van life journey, the aim is to make your money stretch as far as possible. This post will guide you in the direction of being more economic with your money and reducing your expenses; essentially how to save money whilst living and travelling in your van.
The three main money-saving categories are fuel, campsites and food. These are the biggest expenses and also the easiest to reduce.
The biggest expense with van living is the fuel prices. This is particularly true in 2022 after fuel prices majorly spiked. So for this reason, taking measures to ensure maximum fuel efficiency is imperative.
There are a lot of different factors which affect the fuel efficiency of your van. Some of the factors we cannot control like the weight and drag of your van but others we can.
Reducing your driving speed can make a massive difference in how far your fuel will take you. It has been scientifically proven that driving between a speed of 40 mph and 60 mph is the most efficient. Driving faster than 60 mph seriously decreases your fuel efficiency.
It is unrealistic to assume you will keep to these speed constraints at all times, but bear in mind on faster-moving roads that sticking to the slow lane and reducing your speed a little will be beneficial in the long run.
Different fuel stations charge wildly different amounts for the exact same fuel. Try not to go to petrol stations in the middle of nowhere. These stations often cost more simply because there is no local competition. Google maps are pretty good for showing you the best petrol station to visit by showing you the current prices in a map format. If you are filling up a big tank, even a little saving adds up to a pretty decent amount.
This one is fairly obvious. Be sure to always make sure that your tyres are at the correct pressure and the tread is good. This ensures that your van is safe to drive as well as more fuel efficient. The rolling resistance of even slightly flat tyres can affect the performance of your vehicle by a surprisingly high amount.
Road Trip Route
As for your travel plans, the places you want to see will determine the distance you cover. We love to travel at a slow pace and really explore all the small lesser-known places. Jumping quickly from city to city will burn through fuel like crazy. We find that we discover so many interesting places we had no idea about when travelling like this. We recommend keeping your plans open, you may be surprised by where you stumble upon. For example on our Spanish road trip, we ended up loving the three small towns (Avila, Segovia and Toledo) surrounding Madrid more than the capital city itself. We never would have discovered this if we were travelling quickly.
In short, slower travel means less driving, therefore less fuel and less cost.
Depending on your electrical setup campsites may be extremely important. The cost of staying in campsites can certainly add up. We found that in Europe it was common for many campsites to cost around Є30 per night. Staying in these expensive (but nice) campsites is an easy way to burn through money incredibly quickly.
Our van is fully off-grid however, a week of no sun and no driving to charge our batteries leaves us with pretty low power. Check out our electrical setup below.
Van Build – Electrics
To help save money we tried to only stay in campsites as a last resort. We try to “wild camp” as much as possible. Depending on which country you are visiting the rules for wild camping are different. For example, in Scotland, it is totally legal to stay in your van almost anywhere so long as there is no prohibition sign. However other countries have stricter rules. In Spain and Croatia, it is technically illegal to stay in your van, not at a campsite. That being said, so long as you are respectful and don’t take out awnings and chairs, it is widely tolerated.
All over Europe, there are many free places to refill your drinking water and dump your grey and black water. These free areas are called ‘aires’ and we found most of the ones we used on the Park4Night app. A lot of European petrol stations also offer free water to refill your fresh tank. Some aires even have free electricity, these sites are a rare find but are wonderfully helpful.
If you need to charge up your leisure batteries, compare the prices of nearby campsites to ensure you are getting the best deal. Again, Park4Night is great for checking nearby campsite prices along with reviews. There are many cheap campsites in Europe which have all the basic necessities. Many of these run from a computer system where you select the services you want and pay at the machine. We found a few of these campsites which provided 24 hours of electricity as well as all water services for roughly Є7.
Naturally, one of the biggest expenses of van life is food. I mean everybody has to eat! Try to limit the times you go out to restaurants for dinner. Cooking your meals yourself is a really easy way to save lots of money.
Dining out whilst travelling is a great way to immerse yourself in local culture. Trying the local delicacies can be really eye-opening and can certainly broaden your taste buds. We would not suggest cutting out these experiences, simply cutting back on dining at chain restaurants with average food can make a world of difference.
Another simple way to save money on food is by shopping at less expensive supermarkets. So many Lidls and Aldis all over Europe have great quality food at a low price. Many of their products are very close dupes to significantly more expensive branded products.
If you have transitioned from regular life to van life you will discover that it is a totally different world with so much freedom. We have found that through our experience we are able to spend as little as possible yet discover so many wonderful things each and every day. Outgoing expenses can vary quite significantly depending on your location. We discovered that Eastern Europe is wonderfully cheap, living on £500 a month was no problem. Spain was considerably more expensive where we would spend twice as much. Being able to save money whilst living in a van comes with practice and experience. You need to discover what sort of lifestyle works for you in this unique way of tiny living.
We hope this post has given you some helpful tips so you too can save money whilst living in a van.