Yesterday, Jeff and I were tickled to scroll through Facebook and see that a recent photo we had taken of our Honda Odyssey set up with our canopy had been chosen as the header image in a minivan camper group that we are in on Facebook. Scrolling through the comments, we laughed because the admin who had posted it specifically mentioned that a build like ours was ‘less than $1,000’ — we definitely spent more than $1,000, mostly because our power setup was a bit pricey. But that got me wondering how much we have spent on our build and on vanlife. Since I’m a bit of a numbers geek, it was pretty easy to pull the numbers out of my accounting software. And since I would have loved any information like this when researching vanlife, I thought I’d pull together into a blog post. So if you’re a numbers geek like me, or just curious what it costs to live on the road, read on.
As a note — we officially headed out on the road on February 22nd and since then have been wandering around Florida. Part of our time was spent back in Daytona with family. If you’d like to see our full itinerary thus far, click here. We tend to stay in one place for a week or so before moving on, which may (or may not be) reflected in our gas costs. Also, we’ve been sticking to campgrounds in national forests which are usually around $10 a night — no free boondocking and no pricier state or private campgrounds.
So without further ado, let’s go over our van build costs first. Of particular note is that we already owned the van, so that’s not part of the calculation. We have a ’04 Honda Odyssey and I think we could purchase one with similar mileage/condition for $1500-$2000, so that would be in addition to what we spent. Oh, and we have a clamshell topper that we already had, so that’s part of the cost too. I have no idea how much it would be to buy something like that now!
|Bed frame – lumber and fastenings to build bed frame and attach to kitchen||$123.34|
|Curtain mounting supplies||$30.00|
|Already had on hand: Pillows, 10 yards fabric for curtains||$0.00|
|Bedroom Total $309.01|
|Coleman Camp Stove + Folding Camp Table (free, but we said thank you with a $25 gift card)||$25.00|
|Mason Jars for Pantry – jars, sleeves and labels||$32.56|
|Kitchen Shelving and Storage from Ikea||$85.89|
|Container for Peppermint’s food||$13.09|
|Water storage container||$12.00|
|Already had on hand: some of the jars, LOTS of baskets, dishes, utensils, etc.||$0.00|
|Kitchen Total $309.78|
|Outdoor Living Room|
|Canopy and Sunwalls||$109.00|
|Lighting – Globe lights for the canopy||$29.00|
|Mats/outdoor rugs for camp||$26.00|
|Outdoor Living Room Total $214.00|
|Power – Goal Zero Yeti||$660.20|
|Power – Solar panel and cord||$319.45|
|Power Total $979.65|
|Storage bins, etc. from Ikea||$44.04|
|Totes for clothes storage||$53.04|
|Storage Total $97.08|
|Lighting – Inflatable Solar Light||$14.00|
|Mosquito netting and magnets to make screens for van windows||$11.00|
|Misc Supplies – tablecloths, ditty bags, clips, dishpans, etc||$44.04|
|Supplies Total $103.04|
So there we have it! It cost just over two grand to head out on the road. As I said, our Goal Zero power unit and solar was almost half of that and there are definitely other options out there. The basic setup of bed platform, kitchen shelving from Ikea and Target and futon mattress wasn’t that much… but things do add up!
In addition to the actual build, I also pulled out a few more numbers that I thought might be of interest. These are expenses that we had that are fairly connected to heading out on the road. Establishing residency in Florida and setting up our mail service was voluntary — we could have winged it or just used a family address, but since we are self-employed, it made sense to move our residency to a state with no income tax. And while our car repairs were unique to us, I think anyone heading out with an older van like ours will end up with something similar, even if it’s different parts that need fixing!
|Establishing Residency in Florida + Setting Up Mail Service|
|Van Registration – moved domicile from Minnesota to Florida||$432.15|
|Drivers Licenses – two new licenses from the state of Florida||$108.50|
|Setting up mail service with St. Brendan’s Isle – will last roughly through July||$100|
|Residency Total $640.65|
|Oil change – we switched to synthetic, so a bit more pricey!||$85.15|
|Repairs needed before we set out – New back brakes||$181.50|
|Repairs needed before we set out – Replace window motor for front passenger seat||$319.50|
|New Tires – planned to replace in July, but noticed recently a slash in one tire, so just went ahead and replaced a few months early||$377.01|
|Auto Repairs Total $963.16|
|Viewranger + US Topo map||$20.00|
|US Public Lands||$3.00|
|Cell Service App||$3.00|
|Apps Total $36|
|Total Other Expenses||$1,539.81|
Fuel and Campground Fees
Since we’ve been out for two months, I have at least a bit of fuel and campsite fees to share for perspective! Again, click here to get a sense of how often we are moving. Fuel-wise, since we aren’t really road tripping long distances, we aren’t spending there, but with a teeny cooler, we rack up the in-town miles, heading out for ice and groceries every few days.
Just a note – this represents 51 days on the road… about one week with family, the rest in campgrounds.
|Fuel and Campground Fees|
|Fuel since we went on the road (2/22/18 – 4/12/18)||$288.88|
|Campground fees (2/22/18 – 4/12/18)||$454.85|
|Fuel and Campground Total $743.73|
So where does that leave us?
Other Expenses $1,539.83
Campground & Fuel $743.73
Whew! Not gonna lie, that’s a bit more than I thought it would be!! Obviously, there are a lot of places where we didn’t have to spend that much. Our whole outdoor setup with chairs, canopy, and lights is a nice extra. And one of our most expensive purchases — fixing the motor of the passenger side window — wasn’t necessary, it’s just nice to roll down the window when we’re driving! Plus, it eases our AC to leave it off and let the wind cool us down.
So in some ways, the Facebook admin who commented that our setup was possible for less than $1,000 was right. Without power, we could have done it. Or we could have skipped a few other things and gone with one of the less expensive power options. We talked about heading out without power and relying on recharging from our inverters that run off the van battery while we’re driving. I see now that that would not have worked well. Balancing our power needs is a constant project. I’ve set up a profile on Jeff’s laptop so that I can burn through my laptop battery and move on to his laptop while working. We check in a few times a day — what percentage is your laptop? My laptop? How about the phones? What about the Goal Zero?
Curious to see more of our setup? Check out our van tour!
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Do you have pics of the inside of your van conversion that you’d like to share. My husband and I are trying to decide if a minivan is doable for us or too small.
Sarah! I’m so sorry, I just saw your comment today! If still helpful, I did this post when we both started out. https://pattybrower.com/2018/03/honda-odyssey-minivan-camper-tour/
It’s totally do-able. We were full time for a year and a half. BUT… we are used to hanging out. Prior to going out on the road we ran a B&B together and an antique shop. I think if a couple is used to working in separate offices every day there may be a transition period!