- Two years ago, my boyfriend and I left our office jobs and started living and travelling in a converted cargo van.
- We spend $US24,000 a year combined thanks to our new lifestyle. That’s $US26,000 less than we used to spend.
- Here are all the things we spend and save money on from the comfort of our van.
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Not long ago, I was spending between 50 and 60 hours a week at an office in Los Angeles just to make rent for my Westside apartment, which had a cockroach problem I couldn’t afford to fix.
I chalked up my financial instability to being young and “paying my dues,” something I heard frequently while working in the entertainment industry. Now, I’m working half as much as I used to and my life is brimming with adventure, thanks to a 13-year-old cargo van.
I share a 2006 GMC Savana with my boyfriend, Matt, who I met in New Zealand after I quit my job and sold everything to travel in 2016. We both left office jobs – his in Bristol, England – to achieve something bigger than what we were achieving from our desk chairs.
Living in a van is our way of being able to afford travelling the world. Matt and I have cut our spending from when we were living in cities from $US22,000 and $US28,000 a year, respectively, down to $US24,000 for the both of us combined – all while working less and having more fun in the process.
Here are all the ways our beloved van, Birdie, saves us money.
Before moving into the van, our biggest expense was rent. My part of the two-bedroom apartment I shared with a roommate in LA cost $US13,000 a year — more than half my starting salary — not including utilities. Matt’s half of his former flat in Bristol cost the equivalent of $US6,240 a year.
These days, rent comes in the form of a $US380-a-month car payment. Before my father converted it into a mobile home, our van Birdie was used by the state of Ohio as a surveillance van. I bought it with 110,000 miles on the odometer and have added an additional 6,000 since December.
We’ve travelled through 15 states and two Canadian provinces within the past six months. Apart from the occasional $US20 stay at a campsite (a splurge), we stick to sleeping on public land and in free campgrounds.
Happy hours and after-work dinners were once routine, but our budgets no longer allow for much dining out. We like to cook outside anyway. Limited space helps us to reduce waste, so we buy only what we need (often daily) and spend about $US100 a week on groceries.
Forget dishwashers, laundry, showers, and air conditioning (all the things that once warranted a $US150-a-month utility bill in LA). We buy butane gas for our stove and take a trip to the laundromat every two weeks now, which costs about $US70 per month.
We live more primitively these days, filling our van with free water that we sometimes have to purify ourselves and keeping warm with hot water bottles.
No need for lighting, either, since we tend to slumber with the sun. If we’re awake past dark, a battery-operated lantern makes for an adequate reading light. We charge the lamp and other electrical devices with the car battery.
Old vans are notoriously tough on gas, but the beauty of travelling indefinitely is that we can take the journey slowly. We put $US80 in the tank weekly and that’s only $US40 more than what it took to commute to and from work in LA.
We make a living on writing, photography, and seasonal odd jobs. Working remotely requires us to have hefty data plans — up to $US75 per month for 15 gigabytes — and the occasional cup of coffee for WiFi. Still, it beats a $US160 cable bill.
Staying in shape used to mean early mornings and late nights at the gym. Now, working out is much more fun — and also free — with endless trails to hike, lakes to paddle, and mountains to climb. Who needs a $US30-a-month gym membership when you have the great outdoors?
When we’re not out exploring, you can find us curled up in Birdie playing card games by the beach. Also free.
Needless to say, travelling is cheaper when you have a self-sufficient camper. Van life allows us to explore without dishing out hundreds on flights, hotels, and restaurants. Let’s just say the odd brake job and spark plug replacement is worth it in the end.
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