Is it cheaper to live in a van? (5 basic expenses)

In this blog post, we will answer the following question: Is it cheaper to live in a van? We will discuss the basic costs that you can have living in a van. We also discuss the pros and cons of living in a converted van. 

Is it cheaper to live in a van?

Is it cheaper to live in a van than in a flat? This answer is very relative, it will depend on the type of vehicle you have, if you are paying for it or it is already paid for, how much you will move it and if it is self-sufficient. For you to make your approximate and personalized calculation, we leave you some tips.

The basic expenses when living in a van

You have to take into account the fixed expenses that you will not get rid of with this type of life, and the variable expenses that change depending on the situation.

We talk about variable expenses in the following cases:

  • Vehicle loan: monthly fee to take into account if you are paying for your “house on wheels”.
  • Fuel: varies depending on the journeys you make and the consumption of the vehicle. It will be great if you live traveling.
  • Wifi: you can install a router, use the mobile rate or do without this.
  • Car parks, van areas or campsites: You have to take into account a possible expense in places to spend the night if you cannot find where to do it for free, or to carry out the necessary emptying and filling of water. If you park it permanently in a campsite, you must pay a fee for the rental of the plot.
  • Repairs and maintenance: extras derived from breakdowns or revisions may appear.

When we say fixed expenses, we refer to:

  • Vehicle insurance. Which is mandatory. 
  • Water: it is possible to get free water in areas equipped for vans or in fountains. On many occasions, you have to pay for this service at gas stations (approx. Between 30-50 liters for $ 1) or at campsites according to its rate (approx. $ 5 with emptying)
  • Gas: normally to cook or heat the water you need butane or propane depending on the outside temperature.
  • Electricity: if you install one or more solar panels, you will make your vehicle self-sufficient. So you only have to spend money on its purchase and installation and then not worry, as long as the sun rises and you know how to store this energy.
  • Laundry: you have two options to wash by hand or laundry, between $ 6 and $ 10 (wash and dry).
  • Food: the issue of shopping is an essential expense, although it depends on where and how much you buy.
  • Road Tax: compulsory expense that no one who has a vehicle gets rid of.

Differences between  living in a van vs a flat

Many are the changes that a life change like this implies and many of them you only see when you live them.

Flat/HouseVan
A lot of spaceReduced space
More amenitiesFewer amenities
Water and electricity when you need itWater and electricity are limited
Washing MachineLaundries
Full bathroomBathroom with chemical toilet cistern to be emptied
Security and privacyLess secure
Terrace? Views?Huge terrace with different views

What is living in a van like?

After reading this section you will learn what camper life is like, how to adapt to space, how to manage energy and water, and how this way of life differs from your life in a flat.

The living space is reduced to the size of the van. To give you an idea, the average van measures 5.7 meters long, 2.7 wide and 3 meters high. You will realize that in the van all the spaces are useful and the best of all is that you have the largest and most varied terrace in the world.

The priorities in this type of life are completely different: where do I park, how do I manage energy, how do I get clean water, where to empty the dirty ones and the bathroom, how do I manage my resources, where do I wash my clothes… do they sound familiar?

Find a good place to sleep. You will be lucky that your home is where you want to be. Every day you have to find a place to sleep, quiet, that is allowed to park and if possible with good views at sunrise. But you will not always be able to do it, not all places are safe, others have difficult access or do not have the basic needs that you need to cover.

Where to fill water and how to manage it. Water will become an even more precious commodity. It will depend on the capacity of the tank you have in the vehicle but you have to try not to waste it when scrubbing, cleaning and showering, forget about ten-minute showers. You will live in a more sustainable way! 

How much energy to store and spend? You will need energy for almost everything: turning on the light, turning on the thermos, turning on the water taps, charging mobile phones and electronic devices or watching television. This energy is usually obtained from a solar panel, although it is also generated with the energy produced by the running motor.

Therefore it is important if you want to be self-sufficient to have solar panels, battery (s) to store energy and “go out alone, warm me up a little”!

You will need gas! Gas is usually used for cooking and for the water heater, although there are some refrigerators that also work on gas or use it as an energy alternative. We have calculated that a cylinder in the van lasts about 15 days, although it depends on the use.

Empty the dirty water and the chemical toilet. For these tasks, you must find a qualified place and it is not always easy. Usually in van or camping areas.

Friends of the laundries. You will end up becoming a loyal visitor to the laundries, where for approximately $ 7 you can wash and dry your clothes. They are an excellent place to reflect, plan, or fix the world by talking. It is also feasible to wash by hand but in a place where you have water easily and where you can hang without disturbing.

The good and the bad of living in a van

For many, the main advantage is personal freedom and the freedom of movement. Living in a van allows you to travel, sleep in different places and with views of unique landscapes every day.

It allows you to have a life made your way, with the right and necessary things to live. The almost absolute power of decision, something difficult to do in this society.

The van can become a good option in times of crisis since it can be cheaper than renting an apartment. Also if job offers arise in different geographical locations, it offers you the possibility of moving easily to where there is work with the house in tow.

If you like to get out of your comfort zone, if you are bored by routines and you like changes, and if you decide to live without ties or mortgages, it is a good life option.

Still, not everything is bright and this life also has its “buts.” You will not always be able to arrive or sleep in the place you would like. You have fewer comforts and you have to live in a reduced space.

The constant search for basic needs such as water, electricity-sunlight or gas become priorities. In addition, feeling protected and safe as much as possible is something that is also present.

Another drawback is that if the van has a breakdown, your house will too. It is a home-on-wheels after all!

For legal purposes, a van behaves like a car, so you will not be able to stay parked in the same place for a long time. This forces you to be in constant motion. If you are going to move from one place to another, spending the night in the places enabled for it and you comply with the rules, it is allowed, you can live in a van all year round.

It is also feasible to place a fixed caravan on a camping site or on private land. Many choose this option as it is cheaper than renting or buying an apartment, although you have to buy or rent the plot or land.

The bottom line

Have you ever tried the van life experience? Does this life appeal to you? Note that there are now many rental companies to take the plunge and discover #vanlife. There is something for all tastes, profiles and budgets. 

If you want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment!

FAQ on Is it cheaper to live in a van?

Is it worth living in a van?

Living and travelling in a van may be worth it and a real joy for some people, but don’t think that everything is easy and #vanlife definitely isn’t for everyone. Of course, It would be impossible to talk about #vanlife without addressing the sense of freedom that comes with it. 

Why Van Life?

Van Life is a trend set to encourage people to get out there and live long or short-term in a van. The idea was to get away from it all, to go and see nature after three months of confinement and to get a taste of nature. 

Can you live permanently in a van?

You can live permanently in a van as long as you have a type of static van known as a park home. If the caravan is on private property, you will also need the local council’s permission. 

Can I sleep in my van?

Currently, it is completely legal to sleep in a van, a campervan or a camper van (vehicles classified as M1 have the same rights as a car). There is nothing in the law that prohibits it. In theory, you can therefore spend the night wherever you want.

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