Saturday, July 24, 2021

We’ve been living out our #VanLife fantasy for the past 12 months, and we’ve spent far less than we would if we owned a home


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Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford are the cofounders of Van Life Theory, an online resource about living and traveling in a campervan.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Our total average cost per month: $2,350 (USD $1,750)

The couple has spent the past 12 months on the road.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

All costs are averages and listed in AUD.

Back in 2008, when Alesha and I first met as broke backpackers, we bought an old Chevy van and spent three years traveling around Canada; it was an experience we always looked back on fondly.

We have dabbled in van life since then in Western Australia, Ireland, Chile, and New Zealand, so once lockdowns lifted in Australia, we decided to pursue our old dreams once more, documenting our experiences along the way.

We paid $48,000 (USD $35,000) for the van, already fully converted, and we’ve been living and traveling full-time in Marlee for the past 12 months. We have averaged about $2,350 (USD $1,750) per month for all of our expenses.

Considering the average monthly mortgage payment in Australia now sits around $2,400, and that’s not including bills, food, car loans, transport to and from work, etc, we are actually saving money by living this lifestyle. 

While it is entirely possible to travel in a van for a lot cheaper than this, we are living very comfortably on this budget, and having the time of our lives while we do it.

Here is a breakdown of each expense we have while living full-time on the road.

Accommodation and campgrounds: $120 (USD $90)

Their campervan includes a king-size bed.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Our motorhome is kitted out with everything required to be self-sufficient — solar panels, lithium battery, large inverter, kitchenette, composting toilet, hot shower, and even a king-size bed.

Being fully off-grid means we don’t need to stay in caravan parks or hotels to make use of the facilities. We use the app WikiCamps to find free and low-cost campsites wherever we go, and try not to pay for accommodation unless we absolutely have to.

The few times we will pay for a campground are when it’s a fantastic location, such as a national park, beach, or popular town, or if we need to stay somewhere particular for work.

Fuel: $350 (USD $260)

The get about 19.5 miles per gallon in their van.

Courtesy Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem

Being a large, heavy van means that our fuel consumption sits around 19.5 miles per gallon, which isn’t terrible, but not overly economical and can result in high fuel costs if we drive too much. The fuel economy gets worse if we are in mountainous regions or cities.

To keep our budget down, we try to stay at least a few days in each destination we visit, and we’ll often park our van in one place and use our bicycles to explore.

Food: $800 (USD $600)

The couple cooks most of their meals in their van.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Our food budget is quite high, but that is by choice as we like to eat as healthy as possible, and Alesha loves cooking.

Most of our food we make inside the van, and it’s only on special occasions or if we’re catching up with friends that we go out for a restaurant meal.

Coffee: $100 (USD $75)

Alesha and Jarryd typically prepare their own coffee and enjoy it with their morning view.

Courtesy Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem

Driving long distances and working on the road means we drink a lot of coffee. We buy beans from local roasters and make most of our coffee in the van using an Aeropress, although we splash out at nice cafes a few times a month.

Alcohol: $150 (USD $100)

The couple likes to enjoy a drink or two with new and old friends on the road.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Traveling in a van means you meet a lot of people, especially if you use social media to connect with other van lifers.

Meeting up with new friends on the road can often result in enjoying a few beers or a glass of wine around a campfire or over dinner. It’s an expense we don’t mind having, as we love connecting with people and hearing their stories.

Phone bills: $100 (USD $75)

They rely on their mobile-phone hotspots for internet access wherever they go.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

Working online means we need a lot of data to stay well-connected. We have found that the best method is to hotspot off of our phones using standard mobile plans.

To ensure maximum coverage, we use two different cell providers, and between them we have 680 GB of data, which is more than enough to complete all of our work without stressing about running out of internet.

Laundry: $15 (USD $12)

They use a Scrubba Wash Bag to clean their clothes on the road.

Courtesy Scrubba Wash Bag

One thing you won’t see on the pretty Instagram posts is behind the scenes of van life, such as having to do laundry.

Finding laundromats on the road can be a bit of a challenge when traveling in remote places, and they are often expensive, so we keep our costs down by using a Scrubba Wash Bag. This is essentially just a dry bag with rubber ribs on the inside which you can use to scrub your clothes clean.

When we do find a cheap laundromat we’ll use that opportunity to wash our bedding, towels, and hiking clothes.

Health and medical: $100 (USD $75)

They meet all sorts of new friends on the road, including kangaroos.

Courtesy Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem

We don’t need private health insurance here in Australia, so our only expenses on health and medical are buying things like vitamins, standard medications like paracetamol, and first-aid supplies.

Activities and attractions: $150 (USD $110)

The couple mostly enjoys free outdoor attractions.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

One of the joys of traveling around the country in a campervan is finding all kinds of incredible attractions and activities in different places.

We love being outdoors, so usually our costs are almost zero as we’re out hiking or mountain biking, but occasionally we sign up for sightseeing tours or high-ticket activities such as scuba diving.

Subscription services: $25 (USD $18.50)

Jarryd and Alesha keep a Netflix subscription for nights when it’s too rainy or cold to venture outside.

Courtesy Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem

We pay monthly for Spotify Premium, as we always have music streaming when we’re driving and working. We also have a

subscription for those cold and wet nights when we just want to relax in the van and watch a movie.

Van maintenance: $250 (USD $185)

Living in a van has allowed the couple to see majestic sights like the Milky Way.

Courtesy Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford

This is the one cost that we don’t have any control over, as we can’t predict if and when something might break in the van. Luckily for us we haven’t had any major issues so far (touch wood), and most of our expenses have been for general services and upgrades.

Because Marlee is our full-time home, we keep on top of maintenance as soon as we need to. We do a full service every 6,000+ miles, or every four to five months, which costs on average $350 each time. The rest of the budget goes on making minor repairs to the interior, and buying new items to make our home a bit more comfortable.

Registration and insurance: $190 (USD $140)

Living out of a van includes typical vehicle expenses, like registration.

Courtesy Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem

Some expenses you just can’t get away from, such as vehicle registration and insurance. The bare minimum we need to have our van legally on the road is registration and third-party insurance, which costs us $1,240 per year for both.

We also have comprehensive motorhome insurance, which covers us in the case of mechanical breakdowns, accidents, theft, etc. This sets us back $1,080 per year, and while not a necessity, it’s worth it for the peace of mind.

Jarryd Salem and his wife, Alesha Bradford, are the professional travel writers, content creators and co-founders behind Van Life Theory, an online resource about living and travelling in a campervan, as well as the co-founders…

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