The Real Cost of Van Life

Thinking about getting a campervan or motorhome but are worried about the cost of van life? Have no fear! On this page we’ll look at all the expenses involved in motorhoming, from the initial purchase of the vehicle through to maintenance and everyday running costs.

We’ll be sharing our personal van life story and what we spend on van life every year.

And we’ve got a free van life budget tracker you can download to help work out your budget and keep track of your month to month expenses.

The real cost of van life

Whether you’re still in the process of sourcing an RV or if you’re already living the van life, it’s a good idea to keep track of your income and expenditure.

Living in a campervan or motorhome can be expensive, despite what many media stories tell us about vanlifers ‘saving hundreds every month’.

For instance, if you use campsites a lot you’ll be paying on average £25 per night in the UK. (Some sites cost much more, others are a lot cheaper). The simple maths tell us that if you plan to use campsites all the time it’ll cost you around £750 per month to live in your van. That’s not much less than a typical monthly rent or mortgage payment. (1)

Of course, you might find good places to wild camp in your van but you’ll still need to budget for fuel, gas (butane or propane), and other costs of living.

But what if you’re just starting out and are still in the process of looking for a motorhome? What budget will you need just to get started?

New or used motorhome?

If you’re searching for a campervan or motorhome you’ll no doubt have some idea about how much you’ve got in the kitty to spend (or how much you can afford to borrow).

Brand new motorhomes cost from around £60,000 for the smaller models up to and above £150,000 for the bigger ones. If you plan on buying a brand new vehicle our advice is to do plenty of research, visit several dealers, and maybe check out the models at motorhome shows.

Good second hand models just a few years old can be bought for £35,000 to £60,000.

Models about 15 years old can be found for around £15,000 to £35,000.

Then there are the ‘elders of the tribe’, like our old VW T4 Cree which you can pick up for just a few thousand, depending on condition, mileage, service history etc.

However, if you’re planning on getting an older RV there are several checks you must make on used, older motorhomes.


how to find your perfect motorhome - ebook

How much we spend on van life

When we started back in 2017 we didn’t think much about the cost of van life. All we knew was that our budget to buy a van was £7,500 which we had to borrow from the bank.

We were so eager to get a van and hit the road we didn’t even consider on-going running costs. We’d advise you not to make the same gung-ho mistake!

We paid £6000 for our 1992 Volkswagen Cree. We then spent the best part of £1500 sorting out a bad case of water ingress that had rotted the wooden frame on one side.

Even though we’ve kept all the receipts, we’re not brave enough to tot up all the expenses on repairs and additions we’ve made (like adding solar panels) over the years. It’s safe to say that it runs into the thousands!

But what about average costs? How much does van life cost each year?

Our annual van life costs

Getting the van is one thing. Keeping it going year after year is another.

This is what we spend on our motorhome every year (on average)…

  • Storage costs £50 per month = £600 per year
  • MOT £50
  • Annual service £300
  • Hab check £180
  • Road tax £340
  • Insurance £250
  • Green Flag Breakdown Cover £100
  • Membership £54 (Caravan and Motorhome Club)
  • Diesel £1,200
  • Gas (propane) £45
  • Repairs and upgrades £500 – £1000

A simple addition tells us that the annual cost of running our motorhome is around £3,500 – £4000. (not including campsite costs).

To note: the diesel cost is based on us travelling around 5000 miles per year (at a cost of £1.50 per litre of diesel averaging 28 mpg). A smaller van will probably give you better fuel economy. However, if you’re thinking of getting one of those bigger A-class motorhomes you’ll be lucky to get 20 to the gallon.

Of course, some of those numbers are arbitrary; diesel and gas costs will fluctuate depending on how much you use. The repair costs might be minimal one year and extortionate the next. And if you live full time in your van you won’t pay storage costs. (We don’t have a driveway and don’t like the idea of leaving our van in a street). And a hab check is not a legal requirement though it helps keep an eye on damp issues and the safety of your habitation appliances.

RELATED CONTENT: Does my motorhome need a hab check?

Do you need a van life emergency fund?

You can budget for everyday expenses but you can’t plan for the bigger repairs that your van will probably need at some point. That’s why we recommend you have some kind of emergency fund stashed away somewhere. You just never know when you’ll need it.

Our £7,500 budget went straight away on the purchase of our van and the repair of the water ingress problem. Two years later the gearbox leaked out all its oil and needed replacing (another £1500).

If you’re buying a brand new motorhome (or a newish model from a used dealer) make sure you know what the warranty covers. And if you’re planning on buying an older motorhome you can be sure that it will need repairs sooner or later. Some of these can be very costly.

We recommend you have at least a couple of thousand stashed away in a bank account, solely for the purpose of paying for bigger repairs on your RV. Trust us, you will need that emergency fund at some point.

Will you be a full or part-time vanlifer?

The other thing to take into consideration is whether you plan to be a full or part-time van-lifer.

We get out as much as we can in our van and do several road trips around the UK each year but we’re not full-timers. We don’t live in our van. Our van life costs would be different if we did.

If you’re going full time, consider where you’ll stay each night. It’s not easy wild camping in a campervan here in the UK so you’ll probably have to factor in the cost of campsites. If you’re moving around a lot your diesel costs will go up. And during those cold winter nights you’ll get through a lot of gas heating the van.

RELATED CONTENT: How to winterize your RV

And part-time, you’ll need to consider where to store your van. If you’re lucky enough to have a driveway or know a friend that does, then all is good. Otherwise you’ll probably want to store your motorhome is a secure storage yard which costs anything from £30 to £60 per month.

Not cheap, but it gives you peace of mind.

Everyday running costs of van life

We’ve spoken about the costs of keeping the van on the road. But then there are other costs too…

We said that campsites cost on average £25 per night (though we’ve seen some sites asking £45. Crazy!) We belong to the Caravan and Motorhome Club and like using their small 5-pitch CL sites, sometimes using EHU (electric hook-up) and other times relying on our solar panel to charge our gadgets.

As a member of the club you can use these smaller sites, some of which cost as little as £8 per night. That’s a massive saving compared to some of the bigger campsites.

But it’s not just campsites that add to the cost of van life…

If you’re living full-time in your RV you’ll have to budget for food (including eating out occasionally), toiletries, laundry costs, indeed, the same kind of costs you’ll have if you live in a bricks and mortar house.

And if you need a good internet connection on the road you’ll need to add the cost of wifi (and the possible purchase of a good wifi system for your motorhome).

How to make money on the road

With all this expense – and if you’re planning on being a full-time vanlifer – how do you plan to make money on the road?

Are you retired and wealthy enough to live off your pension? Perhaps you work remotely (online) and work from your motorhome?

Maybe you like the idea of travelling and working in different locations such as doing seasonal work or working on organic farms.

We know some vanlifers who manage campsites throughout the year. They’ll spend a season at one site then after a few months move on to another site.

However you intend to make an income, you’ll know roughly how much money you need coming in each month to pay for all the expenses we’ve already spoken about.

Try before you buy – why it might be a good idea to rent a camper first

One more thing to consider…

If you’re not sure about this whole van life thing and would like to test it out before diving in at the deep end, we recommend looking into hiring a motorhome or campervan for a few days.

Renting a campervan will give you the chance to experience van life without the big upfront costs. After all, you might find you can’t stand being cooped up in a small space for days on end, especially if the weather is terrible.

Instagram shows us the glamour of van life with beautiful people and stunning locations. The reality is somewhat different. Living in a motorhome can be stressful. It’s safe to say that van life is not for everyone.

If you’re uncertain about motorhome living and want to ‘test drive’ van life read our top tips about motorhome rental.

motorhome rental: what you need to know before you hire an RV

Free van life budget tracker

So, with all that in mind, grab our free van life budget tracker to keep tabs on your monthly expenses (and work out how much van life is likely to cost you if you’re still new to all this).

N.B. The budget tracker is in Microsoft Excel for which you may need a subscription to Microsoft 365.

Notes and references

(1) Average cost of UK mortgage payments

Back to How to Get Started in Van Life

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