Road Trip Budget & Daily Costs of Vanlife

This page may contain affiliate links. More info in our Privacy Policy.

Traveling across the USA in a campervan can be a great way to see the country on a tight budget. Living in a van means you don’t need to spend money at hotels or expensive restaurants, plus, you can easily get off the beaten path. We kept track of everything we spent during our 3-month USA road trip, so you can see how much to budget for your own campervan or RV road trip.

Campervan Budget Road Trip

Road trips can be expensive, there’s no question about it. If you’re planning a road trip or are going to be living in a van full-time (like we did!), we’ve got you covered with the costs of living and a sample of how much money we spent during 3 months of living on the road.

When we started planning our epic USA Road Trip, we knew we needed to stick to a strict budget if we wanted to stretch out our travels as long as possible. Sure, camping is cheaper than staying in hotels, but those campsite fees can add up quickly. And when you take into account gas and food, our road trip budget can be blown in a matter of days if you aren’t careful.

During our road trip, we tracked our spending and we learned quite a few road trip budget tricks and hacks that helped us save money and stick to a budget.

And as it turns out, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have an incredible road trip around the United States. We are living proof that #vanlife is an incredible (and cheap!) way to travel.

In this article, we’re going to break down exactly how much it costs to live in a campervan.

But first…

Looking for a campervan rental?

It’s no secret we’re obsessed with #vanlife. If you don’t have the time (or interest!) in building your own conversion and you still want to give van life a test drive, we have tons of ideas for you…

Check out our list of top companies for USA Campervan Rentals, from budget to bougie, we even included some exclusive discounts for our readers! 

One company we’d recommend looking into is Escape Campervans. They have 12 different locations across North America and come fully loaded with all the gear you need for an epic road trip. Plus, their rates are fair and affordable.

BONUS: We’ve partnered with Escape to give you a 10% off discount when you use our link!

Now that we’ve got your campervan sorted out…

How much does a USA road trip cost?

Hang tight, we’re about to answer that question!

We’ve laid out everything we spent while living in a campervan this summer… and I mean everything. From gas to toothpaste to a spur-of-the-moment lemonade stand stop, we recorded EVERYTHING.

Pro Tip: We use an app called Trail Wallet to keep track of all our spending.

Note: This article focuses on our expenses during our road trip in our campervan. If you want to know how much it costs to convert a van, check out our super cheap DIY campervan conversion.

Whether you are staying in a hotel, living in a campervan or RV, or you’re trekking in the backcountry, here is everything you’ll want to pack for the road. Plus tips and advice on making your next road trip go as smoothly as possible!


How does this road trip budget work?

We’re dissecting exactly what we spent our money on by categories such as gas, food, campsites, and entertainment so you know how much to budget for your road trip.

Plus, we’ll share just how much that equates to per day.

*REMEMBER: All these costs are for TWO people. There are some expenses, like food or drinks, that would be lower if there was only one person. But some expenses, like gas and campground fees would stay the same no matter how many people.

Our road trip lasted 93 days in total, but we know not everyone can (or wants to!) take a road trip for this long of a time.

You can use our budget as a guideline and calculate your expected costs based on how many days your road trip will be.

Okay, let’s get started!

Transportation = $2,488 / $26.75 per day

Campervan Budget Road Trip

Let’s start with the big one first. It wouldn’t be a road trip without transportation expenses. We were stoked to find a 1994 Chevy Van on Craigslist that only had 89,000 miles, and with no other major issues. But the thing with vans that old and large is they typically don’t get great gas mileage. We averaged around 15 to 18 miles per gallon, so we knew that this category would be the highest for the summer.

In addition to gas, we included public transportation, ferries, street parking, and fixes for a couple mechanical issues. Luckily, we only had one major breakdown and a DIY fix on the van the entire summer. Thankfully, other than the standard oil change, we didn’t have to put too much money into the van.

Let’s break it down:

Campervan Budget 3 month Road Trip Transportation

Note: Of course, we purchased for car insurance on our van, but we did not include that cost here for a few reasons. Depending on the driver, the van, your state, driver history, and insurance company, the cost of car insurance will vary. For us, we got a 6-month policy on Vinny the Van through Geico Insurance for around $85 USD.

Food = $1,678 / $18.04 per day (aka groceries, snacks & coffee)

Campervan Budget Road Trip Food

While living in our campervan, we typically cooked most of our meals in our kitchen and occasionally ate at fun restaurants along the way. We tried to limit our eating out in order to save money.

Tip: Our favorite grocery store is Trader Joe’s. They always have great quality ingredients and unique food for reasonable prices. We would do a little dance when we saw a “TJ’s” on our Google Map.

And of course when you’re on the road, you’ll get a little “snacky” (that’s one of my favorite words!). Our go-to snacks were trail mix, fruits, dried mangoes, crackers and root veggie chips. I have to admit, we did stop and get ice cream every once and awhile… Okay fine, it was quite frequently. (It was one hot summer!)

Oh, and we can’t forget about coffee! We kept track of this category more or less because we were curious how much my caffeine addiction was costing us. A little over $100 wasn’t too terribly bad for two people in three months.

Let’s break it down: (We saved food at restaurants for a category on its own.)

Campervan Budget 3 month Road Trip Food

Propane = $28.71 / $0.30 per day

Campervan Budget Road Trip Propane costs

We had no idea how much to expect for this expense. Many people told us how quickly propane can add us, so we were thinking our total cost would end up in the 3-digits. But we were pleasantly surprised by how reasonable our propane expenses were.

We used our propane frequently (as we cooked most of our meals), but we tried to conserve as much as possible and were conscientious about not wasting too much.

We typically would go through one 16 oz. tank per week. For the whole summer, the small propane tanks only cost us $28.71. If you are planning to live in a campervan or RV long term, we’ve heard that it’s much more economical to fill up large propane tanks. But for a shorter road trip, the smaller cans make more sense.

Ice = $66 / $0.72 per day

We had a cooler in our campervan to keep our perishables cold. We would typically buy a bag of ice once every 3 days. This should give you a decent idea of how much to expect to spend keeping your food chilled, especially during hot summer months.

Water = $13 / $0.14 per day

We kept two 2.5-gallon plastic jugs of water inside our campervan at all times. We filled these up at parks or campsites so that we would have water for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth and doing the dishes.

A couple times throughout the summer the jugs would crack and we would have to replace them.

But having these big containers of water was a huge money-saver compared to what it would cost to constantly fill them up at grocery stores or buy new water jugs all the time.

Restaurants = $904 / $9.72 per day

Campervan Budget Road Trip Restaurant

We are not typically the sit-down, tablecloth, “use your dessert spoon”-type of restaurant patrons. Chasing food trucks is also one of our favorite dinnertime activities, especially in cities like Portland and Vancouver. Oh, and we both agree that breakfast is the most underrated meal of the day, so we made sure to have a few fantastic brunches along the way.

Trying out new foods and restaurants is one of the best parts of road tripping (or any type of traveling, for that matter!). But in order to save money on this category, we really tried to save eating out for local hot spots, or something totally unique we couldn’t get anywhere else.

Drinks = $929 / $9.99 per day

Campervan Budget 3 Month Road Trip Drinks

So we’re at a point of no judgement right? Because we’re about to share something pretty embarrassing…

We spent $929.21 on drinks this summer. I know, I know, we were a little surprised when we first saw this number. This includes all beer, wine, liquor and mixers bought at stores, restaurants, breweries, wineries and nights out with friends. For two people for three months of summer fun, it’s really not all that terrible. Especially when you consider that’s just under $5 per person each day for drinks.

But if you really wanted to cut back on something for your summer road trip, this would be it! Let’s just say we had a GREAT summer!

Entertainment = $509 / $5.47 per day

Campervan Budget Road Trip Entertainment

On our 3-month campervan road trip around the Western United States we did lots of sightseeing and touring of our own that was completely free. We were fortunate enough to have the America the Beautiful National Park Pass, so we didn’t have to pay entry fee into any national parks, which really helped our travel budget ($80 annual pass and totally worth it!).

However, we did pay for quite a few state park entrance fees as well as a couple of other activities along the way, which included bucket list items like whale watching in Canada and a guided tour of Antelope Canyon tour in Arizona.

In our opinion, the only expense we felt bad about in this category was our gambling losses in Vegas… but it was only $21 so I can’t be too upset. And hey, it’s Vegas, so you gotta play a little, right?! All the others were totally worth it.

Let’s break it down: (We broke down a few of our entertainment costs so you can get an idea of what activities we’re talking about.)

Campervan Budget 3 month Road Trip Entertainment
Campervan Budget Road Trip Accommodation

Accommodation = $496 / $5.33 per day

The best thing about having a campervan is that you have your bedroom right behind you and you won’t have to pay for accommodation too often. Since we were on a tight budget and didn’t have a set travel itinerary, we tried to find free places to park the van overnight. And you know what? We found tons of them! We found many campsites where we didn’t have to pay, but there were some that required a nightly fee.

To give you an idea of how many free places we found, consider this: Out of the 93 days we traveled over the summer, we only paid for 15 nights at campsites. The other nights were spent at free campsites, BLM land, trailheads, parks, a farm, friend’s houses, and two expensive nights in a Las Vegas hotel!

Let’s break it down:

Campervan Budget 3 month Road Trip Accommodation

Showers = $45 / $0.48 per day

There are tons of places you can shower while on the road if you know where to look. Some places cost a few bucks to use a shower, but others were free to get clean.

We have a whole article devoted to How to Shower while Living in a Campervan. It includes a video showing how we shower at a campsite (and no, it’s not that type of video!).

Coffee/Beer for Wifi = $159 / $1.70 per day

*Note: This cost will only apply to you if you plan to work while road tripping. Keep reading for more info.

Campervan Budget Road Trip Coffee and Wifi

We do a lot of work from the road.

Not only do we maintain our blog and create new articles for you guys, but during this road trip, we each had side gigs that kept us busy and brought in cash.

And, well, we needed WiFi for those jobs.

The general rule we followed on our road trip was for every two days spent exploring, we’d have 1 partial day working online.

Sometimes, we used our phones as hot spot devices in order to get the Internet and work from our van. But other times, we needed a change of scenery… And one of the best places to get work done on the road is at local coffee shops.

This category is the money we spent on coffee (or beer or pastries or sandwiches!) so that we could use the WiFi.

Tip: Often, if we know we’ll be working for a couple of hours, we’ll spread out our order: a coffee first, a pastry next, a sandwich later on. This keeps us from drinking and eating everything in the first 10 minutes.

Guess what? Many breweries have WiFi too! We would often bring our computers to a brewery and work for a pint… But after that, our motivation levels would start diminishing fast (go figure!), so we’d put our laptops away for the second beer!

If you won’t be working during your road trip, you can cut out this category. But if working remotely is part of your life too, this number can hopefully give you an idea of what to expect. Also, we’ve put together a complete guide to getting internet in your campervan.

Miscellaneous = $353 / $3.80 per day

This category includes all the odds and ends that didn’t fit into the other categories. Things like toiletries, gift for friends and family, batteries, postcards for TWS followers, some new clothes, decor for van, laundromats, and even a lemonade stand (which had waaaaaay too much sugar, but the little girl was too cute to resist).

Vanlife Facebook Group | Two Wandering Soles

Grand Total: 3-month Campervan Road Trip

Here it is… Our entire summer road trip budget tallied up into one neat table.

Our 3-month road trip across the Western U.S. cost us a grand total of: $7,671.95.

And even though our daily expenses for two people came to $82.49, which is higher than our budget goal of $70 per day, we have no regrets.

It was a summer of exploring new places, hiking, soaking in hot springs, eating s’mores around campfires, stargazing, trying new breweries, and spending magical nights in our campervan.

During these 3 months, we had more adventures than we can count, so it was worth every single penny.

Campervan Budget 3 month Road Trip Grand Total

How much did this road trip cost per person?

This is a difficult question to answer since some of the expenses, like gas and campsite fees would be the same whether you’re traveling solo or as a family of four. Remember that all the costs we have broken down are for TWO people. Use our budget as a guide, but know that it will vary depending on your situation.

You might also like…

We have TONS of resources on converting your own campervan and living the #vanlife. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Van Life for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.

Interested in engaging with others about all things #vanlife? Join our Vanlife Facebook community!

Save this article to Pinterest for later!

Cost of Living in a Van
Cost of Living in a Van

We want to hear from you!

What do you think of our 3-month road trip budget breakdown? Do you want more details about any category? Please share in the comments below.

Comments (37) on “Road Trip Budget & Daily Costs of Vanlife

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      We basically stuck to the western states. Started in Washington, then Idaho, Utah, a little part of Arizona and Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington again, and then around Vancouver, Canada. Are you planning on taking a trip this summer?

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Noah, we ended up selling it because we moved to Thailand shortly after that summer. But we just converted another campervan and can’t wait to explore in it this summer!

  1. peterf@peterf.com says:

    if you are in a coffee shop etc using their free wifi, remember it is not actually free, they paid for it. If you sit there on a coffee an hour, thats not being a very good human being. At least be mindful of how full the place is. If it is nearly full, then they need your table and chairs for paying customers, not free loaders. So please leave and find a coffee shop a little more empty

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Thanks for your concern. I’ve worked in the service industry, so I understand these points. That said, your assumption that we aren’t respectful of this is a little unfair.

      We are very mindful about the types of places we choose to work at and always ask first if we can work on our computers. Typically, we only choose spots to work where others are doing the same. It’s actually pretty easy to know when laptops are not welcome (as there will not be outlets for charging or strong WiFi). Also, as detailed in our description, we buy several items if we’re sitting for a while.

      And if a place gets even somewhat crowded, it usually isn’t a good workspace as it’ll be pretty distracting. So that’s not usually an issue, as we seek out places that are mostly empty and welcome those working on laptops. Again, valid points and good to keep in mind.

  2. sophiedolan2020@gmail.com says:

    Hey, looking to come over to the states next year to do a road trip, do you have any advice on renting campers? Thank you

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Renting a campervan would be a great option! We actually just published an article with some of the best rental companies in the USA. You can find it by searching for it on our site.
      Best of luck and feel free to reach out with any questions!

  3. krboshea@charter.net says:

    Hello from a fellow Minnesotan! This has given me a lot of good info- thank you! I am wanting to pack up in a van and travel out west (California specifically, with a sprinkle of a few other states).

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Hey hey! Always fun "meeting" other people from Minnesoooota 🙂 Sounds like a pretty perfect road trip idea! Maybe we’ll see ya out on the road!

  4. jwags828@gmail.com says:

    This was super helpful! I’m thinking about joining the "vanlife" within a few years and this had a lot of good information and costs I should look into.

  5. joycesebar@hotmail.com says:

    We sre in our 70’s and free camp around Australia. Would like to do that in America. Are there designated free camps.
    Regards Joyce.

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Hi Joyce, yes, there are free campgrounds in the US! The best ones we found tended to be BLM land (Bureau of Land Management). We found https://freecampsites.net/ to be pretty helpful in showing us where the free campgrounds were and what amenities they included, as well as reviews. The site is a little clunky, but still has lots of good information. Hope that’s helpful! Have a fun adventure 🙂

  6. Kyle says:

    Could you give more information on how you got your insurance rate? Did you insure the van as an RV? Were there any hoops you had to jump through? Thanks!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Kyle, we insured the van through Geico because they gave us the best rate. We insured it as a van so there were no hoops to jump through. Hope that helps.

  7. gorton.angelica@gmail.com says:

    Amazing.. I’m so nervous and keep contemplating going through with a van life. I have an 8 month old daughter and I want this lifestyle for her. The money for traveling gas, food, etc. is my biggest concern I don’t want to start this amazing journey and end up screwing myself & my daughter over from not being able to keep getting an income while on the road. If you have any advice or just anything that could help me, please do. My email is Gorton.angelica@gmail.com.

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hi Angelica, we can totally understand being nervous, and having a child adds an entire new layer of uncertainty. Maybe consider doing work exchanges along the way or finding work online like freelance writing or teaching English through VIPKID (Ben did that while we were living in the campervan!).
      Take a look at our free e-book on how we afford travel. It’s packed with tips and advice that might be helpful to you!
      Wishing you and your daughter all the best!

  8. travelswithshelby@gmail.com says:

    This is so awesome, you guys are awesome for tracking all of this! I’m looking at making this plunge with my partner, trying to find the balance between how fancy of a van to get, vision for the travels, etc. and your direction is EXACTLY up our alley. Thanks! You’ve given me hope and inspiration!

  9. leemail2345@gmail.com says:

    I just bought a 93 G20 van with the hope of doing some traveling around the states. I was thinking about keeping the bench seat bed as its so comfortable but i like your idea of more storage under the bed. I’m also super excited to try the kitchen. The part that has me concerned is the budget for accommodations. I’m a single, retired woman (from Washington also) so I would be really nervous about camping at trailheads and other more remote sites. What did you find to be the cheapest, more conventional place to camp. (I’m building up a good friend network on Facebook!) Oh! and how did you string curtains between the front seat passenger portion of the van and the back living area? I tried a shower curtain rod and that hasn’t worked well. Thanks for your help!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey there Lee, as for where to park, we typically aimed for campsites or BLM land where there is free and dispersed camping. The website FreeCampsites.net is a great place to start.
      For the curtain between the driver and passenger seats and the rest of the van, we used the same picture-hanging wire that we used in the window curtains. You can check out our DIY van window curtains article.

  10. johnanders@zippiex.com says:

    I think that’s the best budget plan for 3 months. I have used this 2 times and now again I’m gonna use this. Because I always like to be more energetic and learn more and more about natural beauty in the whole world but in parts so I think 3 months are the best partial decision for me…

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey John! Thanks for using our Campervan Budget Tips. Let us know if you have any more questions about van life!

  11. sagostin@yahoo.com says:

    This is a dream of mine. Do you have your itinerary on your site anywhere? I looked but had no luck…Thanks!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Sarah, We don’t have full itinerary for road tripping the western USA yet, but we have it in the works. If you take a look at our USA country page we have tons of advice on what to do in each of the states we visited. Hope that helps.

  12. jacobnz@gmail.com says:

    I was lost from the beginning.. the cost of the van was never mentioned?
    and did you manage to get insurance, did you sell it before you left? I’m about to head over for a three month rd trip, but so far im finding a few rd blocks just obtaining a van s: and help apreciated

    • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

      Hey Jacob, For the costs of our van and the conversion, check out our campervan content.
      Our DIY Budget Campervan article breaks down each step and the cost associated with it. If you scroll to the very bottom, you can see the grand total on our van and conversion costs.
      We did get insurance through Geiko and paid around $80 for a 6-month policy. This cost will be different for everyone though depending on your vehicle, months the policy is needed from and what state you live in.
      As for finding a van, we scoured Craigslist tirelessly for a good 2 weeks before finding the right one. (And test drove a dud first) We were living in Washington state when we were searching where vans like ours were pretty common.
      Hope this helps!

      • jacobnz@gmail.com says:

        Thanks, yes that helps, I will be landing in Portland and staying in Washington state until I find a good van to kit out, thanks for the quick response, will check out your conversion post.

        • hello@twowanderingsoles.com says:

          Best of luck! Vans do tend to go sell pretty quickly, but don’t get too frustrated, as there are always more going up. It’s also a good thing if you plant to resell it in Washington, as you’ll have no problem finding buyers 🙂 We had a list of 16 people who wanted to view it and ended up selling it to the first one!

  13. Tync4me@gmail.com says:

    I didn’t see any dimensions. How long is your bed and how high is ceiling and kitchen top in your van? I’m 6′ 1" and I don’t think your layout would work for me but I love all the info you provided! Thanks!

    • bwzweber@gmail.com says:

      Hey Tim, we actually have a whole article dedicated to how we made our bed frame and the dimensions. Search for it on the search bar.
      The kitchen counter was about 17 inches tall, basically high enough for the sink and the water waste bucket to fit underneath. Floor to ceiling, the van was about 4 to 5 feet tall.
      I am also 6’1 and It was a bit tight but definitely doable. Let us know if you have any other questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *