Van life is nothing short of invigorating, though it can be a challenge from time to time, too. Even with the best of planning, expenses arise, and even small ones may try to derail your plans. Before you embark on your first or seventeenth road trip, it’s helpful to consider some of the most common unexpected van expenses you may face on the open road. Planning for these, or just learning how to find alternative solutions, could make all the difference. We run through some common unexpected expenses in this article. Check out the details below.
Every van lifer knows that maintenance is the most important step in maintaining their way of life. Yet, maintenance problems can happen unexpectedly. When possible, plan for expenses, like replacing tires and oil changes. When a battery fails, or braking becomes more challenging, though, those costs can be unexpected.
You can avoid these costs with routine maintenance through our service department. Annual inspections of brakes, for example, including both air brakes and hydraulics, are essential. When you plan for these costs, you can do your research to find an affordable repair shop that’s not going to charge you incredible fees for emergency repair.
Entry into National Parks
Yes, visiting the National Parks is a fantastic experience – and you may be on an extended trip to see them all. Yet, there are costs involved. The National Park Service charges a per-vehicle entry fee that ranges from $20 to $30 in most cases. Sometimes fees are per person or per motorcycle. If you plan to visit those parks consistently, purchase the park-specific annual pass. There are also discounts for seniors and vets available, including the America the Beautiful annual pass. You’ll get access to all the parks, meaning the more you visit, the lower your costs.
Campsites and Accommodations
Campsites are a common option, but they add up quickly, especially when you are going from place to place frequently. It’s a misconception that you have to pay a lot of money for campsites, though. There are several ways around this. On average, campsites cost between $25 and $50, sometimes more. That is a lot of extra money.
First, find free camping spots in the U.S. There are plenty of them that can be on your route. Bureau of Land Management sites are a good starting point. Specifically, seek out areas where dispersed camping is allowed. These are areas outside of formal camping areas that you can camp on as long as you do not do so in restricted areas. You can use these sites for up to two weeks in most cases.
You can also boondock, which means camping off the grid. That could mean spending the night in a Walmart parking lot or finding a friend’s driveway to stay in. Doing this consistently could help to alleviate thousands of dollars in costs.
Unfortunately, RVers are feeling the pinch more than anyone. In June of 2022, gas prices hit a national average of $5 a gallon, which is $1.94 per gallon more than the same time in 2021. That’s a significant and often unexpected added cost. Considering this, many RVers have taken to remaining stationary more often.
There are a few ways to reduce fuel costs, so you get the most out of every gallon. Good maintenance is a starting point. Also, ensure your tire pressure is checked and maintained regularly (even truckers will tell you that under or over-inflating costs you money at the pump). Keep the vehicle balanced, reduce the amount of A/C use in favor of windows, and, when possible, keep your load as light as possible.
It seems obvious, but for those who are just hitting the road, food can become a very high unexpected cost, especially if you are trying to stop at restaurants for two or more meals a day. By far, the best alternative is to buy just the groceries you need and prepare food in the RV or on a camp stove. It definitely is easier to stop at a restaurant in each city you visit, but that’s going to add up fast. It’s important to have a budget for all of your experiences, and if food is something you consider worth the expense, then that’s something to budget for. For others, food can be simple and easily cooked in your RV so that money can go to something else.
Depending on how frequently you are traveling on tolled roads, you could spend $50 or more on tolls each month. This can add up. It’s not always beneficial to purchase a pass because you may not be on those roads consistently to benefit from them, especially if you are traveling from one state to the next.
One of the best solutions is to take the old highways and backgrounds. It takes more time, but with RVing, part of the experience is often to check out those old roads and take your time getting where you need to go. At the expense of perhaps a few extra hours of traveling a month, you get to see more and pay less. Keep in mind that if the route takes longer, though, it may not be worth it in extra fuel costs.
No doubt, all of those experiences on the roadways can be fun – wine tastings and guided tours. Those add up quickly. They are typically priced to feed off of tourists, but as a full-time RVer, you’re not a tourist. And that means you need to budget for these experiences or forgo them. Hiking is great because it’s free, but you may want to get more insight into a city.
If there’s a specific area that you want to check out – like historic areas – research discounts. They are nearly always available. Or, call the location and ask for their best price.
If you’ve made the decision to purchase a gym membership (another cost) from one of the larger locations across the country, the showers there prove to be a good option. For those that don’t want to invest in a gym membership or plan to visit parts lesser known with fewer big commercial companies like this, you may end up paying $10 to $15 per shower at some of the nicer gas stations. That, too, adds up.
You have some alternatives to consider. You could build one into your van using a hanging camp shower. This costs less than $50 to build and tends to be beneficial if you have the room and availability of water. Showering at campgrounds tends to be less expensive, usually around $2 to $10, which could be an alternative.
When you’re off the road, storing your RV can prove very expensive. If you have the room, consider building a carport on your property. It may cost a bit up front, but you’ll save far more in the long term. Remember, too, that this may be an expense you have to have to avoid damage to your vehicle.
Another key cost that adds up fast is the energy costs related to powering everything on your RV. If you’re using batteries for electricity, that could cost $10 to $20 a month, especially if you buy inferior batteries. In this case, consider rechargeable batteries.
Propane is another high cost, especially if you are using it for your fridge, hot water, and stoves. If that is the case, be on the lookout for propane refilling at gas stations that are off the main highway. That’s typically going to cost you less. Consider upgrading to solar for most of your energy needs. It costs a bit up front, but it can pay off in the long term.
Now that you’re ready to hit the road, check out our Top Van Destinations for July 2022.