How to Save Money in Van Life

Caroline Whatley standing in the back of an open Ram Promaster camper van

Traveling is awesome but spending money never is. It’s actually one of the most stressful things we deal with on the road. Over the past couple of years we’ve figured out a few ways to cut costs in van life. Following these money saving travel tips will help you stay on the road a little bit longer. Read on to see how to save money in van life.

  1. Come up with a spending plan.

    The first step is to figure out where your money is going. Save your receipts for everything for a couple of days and then add up your expenses. Analyze your spending and figure out where you could improve. For us, our two biggest expenses are fuel and food. We love to drive and eat. A lot. Our plan for spending less starts here: with cutting down on our miles and eating “at home” a little (sometimes, a lot) more. Once you’ve got a plan then start tracking your expenses to see if your changes are working. Oh and if you’re traveling with someone else rather than alone you’re both going to have to buy into the plan.

  2. Eat cheap and eat in.

    We eat a lot of cup noodles, macaroni and cheese and of course salad in a bag. It’s a struggle to keep our food cool but it’s way cheaper than eating out. If you’re thinking uh, I can’t eat like that…we get it. But at $.28 cents for a Cup of Noodles, it’s pretty much the cheapest thing you can eat. If Cup Noodles isn’t exactly your thing, come up with a bunch of easy meals that you can cook up or at least assemble pretty easily on the road. Things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, bananas, yogurt and cheese. You get the idea.

Caroline Whatley holding cup noodles
Want to save money in van life? Eat in rather than dining out.
  • Stay with friends and family

    So many of our favorite people in the world have given us a place to crash when we’ve been on the road and honestly, we probably couldn’t have stayed on the road for as long as we have without their help. Because even though we can sleep in our vehicle, nothing beats an actual bed and a shower. Staying with friends and family is one of the biggest ways we save money in van life. It’s a double-bonus, too, to spend time with people we love and catch up with them.

  • Make your own coffee

    Going out every morning for that Tall Frappa-Grande-Mocha-Latte-Soy Milk beverage is going to cost ya. One of the best ways you can cut down on costs in van life (or anywhere for that matter) is to make your own coffee. Don’t get me wrong, we have a VERY soft spot when it comes to coffee and coffee shops but if you’re really trying to keep some cash in your wallet, bring your own beans and make a fresh pot of french press or pourover in the parking lot. We’ve got a post to help you get started on How to Make Great Camp Coffee.

  • holding coffee beans in front of the van.
    The lattes add up quickly. Brew out of the back of your van!
  • Bring your own mug.

    Every now and then we’ll have to buy our own coffee. Most of the time when that happens it’s because we forgot to get propane or it’s very cold and windy and wet outside. A lot of places will give you a small discount by bringing in a reusable mug so take ’em up on it and bring your own. You won’t save a ton of money, but it’s better than nothing. 

  • Don’t buy bottled water.

    I’m a germaphobe and sometimes have a hard time with water fountains and sketchy water spigots but the days of purchasing water are over. One of the easiest ways to save money in van life is to fill up at water fountains, campground spigots, gas stations, etc. Get a good jug or two and fill up when you can. It’ll save your wallet and the environment.

  • Map out your route.

    Sometimes planning might be the last thing you want to do when traveling because you just want to wander and discover things along the way. But by being smart about your route and your fuel consumption you can easily save money in van life. Do your best to cut down on backtracking, stay out of stop and go traffic and orient towards the cheapest gas (your smartphone can help you with all of that.)

  • How To Save Money In Van Life
    Drive with a purpose and cut down on useless miles to save money in van life.
  • Watch your speed.

    This also has to do with gas consumption. Going fast is going to cost ya. According to “While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 50 mph. If you have cruise control and feel safe using it, give it a shot! Most of the time it will help you save on gas and that, as we all know, is one of the easiest ways to save money in van life.

  • Walk.

    Nothing burns fuel like walking. Caloric fuel, that is. And when you can’t walk, consider taking public transportation. And if you’re staying in a city for more than a couple days, look into getting an unlimited pass rather than single use fare cards. Walking is a lot cheaper than driving and it often feels great after a day behind the wheel.

  • Sleep in your vehicle.

    Van life means living and sleeping in your vehicle. Though we love sleeping and waking up in amazing spots, we’ve been known to sleep in the parking lots of hotels and motels (with permission, of course) and sometimes laugh at the irony that an actual bed with a roof to stand under is literally steps away. And sometimes, like when the weather is bad or you’re craving a shower, the temptation to get a hotel or an AirBnb will be VERY hard to resist. But resist. Lodging is expensive! One of the biggest ways you can save money in van life is by not sleeping anywhere else except your own van.

  • How to Save Money in Van Life Recap

    How many of these steps do you currently use in van life in order to help you cut costs in van life? Do you have others? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below!

    Not quite sure van life is for you? Check out our post on 7 Campervan Rental Companies That Will Give You a Taste of What it’s Like Without Going All In.


    Published by Erin McGrady

    Erin McGrady is a filmmaker, photographer, and writer exploring Asheville and beyond. My work focuses on sharing about LGBTQ safe spaces, camper van life, and the outdoors.

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