Want to go on a road trip with no predetermined destination? Just pack the bare necessities and hit the road? Live simply and explore constantly? If you want to, you can – if there’s a will, there’s a way. And now, it’s actually a lot more affordable than you think! After nearly a year living out of our home on wheels in Australia, we have a pretty good idea of what it entails – the up the downs, the good and the bad and the one factor you can’t ignore – the cost.

Before we left we worked hard to achieve this dream of ours, we worked five jobs between us whilst studying full time at university. We were lucky enough to be living with our lovely parents, which meant most of our earnings went straight into our savings. Thanks to our hard work we completed university with enough in the bank to last us quite some time on the road without a stable income. Here are a few of our key ingredients that we have found make van life affordable…

1. Learn to budget, and stick with it!

One thing we have both been good at our whole lives is budgeting, not necessarily writing a list down with specific amounts, but being frugal with our spending. We’ll give you a little peek into how this really works for us. Firstly, we use cash instead of card, handing over the cash and physically seeing it disappear is such a good way to spend less. So, at the beginning of each week we head to an ATM and take out $150 each (pay day, woo!). This is the amount we have found that works well with us, depending on your trip and your needs, the amount will vary. It took us a while to find the right amount, maybe 3 months of trial and error, it was also the first time either of us had lived out of home so we weren’t exactly sure how to balance our spending. Eventually we found the right amount.

Our biggest expenditure is food, we love cooking and creating, and are grateful to have so much time on the road to do this – we both have eaten better now than we did before! We don’t have a set amount we spend on food but it’s generally about 50-60% of our weekly allowance. Of course you could get by and spend $20 each on food if you live on the basics – tuna, rice, pasta etc. But our passion lies with cooking gourmet, tasty and wholesome meals, so we spend a bit more money at the shops and farmers markets! Next up is fuel, we travel slowly and are in no rush, so generally we can get by on a tank a week. If you’re planning a lengthy road trip in a small amount of time this expense would be your #1.

red bluff

Our phone bills are inexpensive, we pay $40 a month (so $10 a week) but that’s automatically debited from our accounts, so we don’t take too much notice of that. We have also broken down a couple of times, both were quite expensive, but that’s the price you pay with a moving home! Then that’s really all there is to it. We free camp 99% of the time so our accommodation/‘rent’ is $0 a week. The only time we have paid for a campsite has been a couple of rad surf spots and an amazing national park (cape range national park – that’s another blog in itself). We don’t usually spend the whole $150 each a week, so whatever is left we put into a ‘treat yourself’ piggy bank, and dip into that whenever we do something out of the ordinary or just really feel like that cold beer on a Sunday afternoon. So far, after a year of travelling we have spent approximately (drumroll…) $11,000 each.

2. Try to adopt a more ‘minimalistic’ existence

We don’t waste our money on going out every weekend, excess alcohol, buying new clothes or eating out. We live in the same old clothes every week, cook all our own meals, and avoid mindlessly spending on things that aren’t necessary. Try to focus your money on the things that are a true essential, it’s the little things that add up quick. Also, assess your water consumption – we meet so many backpackers who buy single use plastic water bottles for drinking and dish washing. The cheapest and most environmentally friendly way is to buy a large reusable water container and fill up in town! Most towns have free drinking water – try the local petrol station or park. We try keep at least 70L on us at all times, which means we can set up somewhere for a week or two and not have to head to the shops to buy more water (reducing the cost of petrol too!).

3. Invest in tools that support self-sufficiency

Being set up to live off the grid is another factor that helps us afford living in a van. We can create our own (free!) power with our solar panels, second battery and invertor. This power allows us to run our lights, charge up electronics, power the fridge and even make a smoothie. Having solar lets us live freely – allowing us to stay wherever, whenever, not having to rely on spending money at caravan parks for power. We also have a camp fridge that can run off 240v, 12v and gas, the fridge eliminates the dreaded esky and the never ending mission of draining the melted ice (and also buying ice itself!). The fridge also keeps our fresh produce, fresher for longer. Lastly, we made a cool little contraption on our roof that allows us to have warm showers (that is, when there’s sun). Our solar shower is a large PVC pipe fitted with a hose. The pipe is painted black so that on sunny days the water heats nicely. This saves us precious dollars so that when we’re sick of cold showers in winter we can head to the local pool or petrol station for a cheap hot shower.

showering next to van

4. Consider work options on the road

We have been lucky enough to be able to fund our lifestyle without having to work on the road (yet!). Kudos to our hard work and savvy spending we are still living off our savings. If you’re not too meticulous there is work out there that can be picked up relatively easily. In Australia, where we are travelling, farm work is usually the most common work amongst travellers. You might be picking mangos in the north, peaches in the east, grapes in the south and bananas on the west, if you following the harvesting seasons there is generally always work available.

We intend to pick up some work along the way, whether its farm work, hospitality, retail or one that we can land with our respective qualifications. We want to work not only top up our funds but to really get to know a place. Stand still for a bit, set up a home base, fall into a loose routine, meet the locals, contribute to the wider community, find the local hotspots, establish connections (understand the weather patterns, encounter the bees etc.). Then eventually after a couple of months, when we’re satisfied with our earnings or are ready for a change up, we’ll say see ya and hit the road again!

Just remember, every dollar has a purpose while on the road. If you work hard initially, budget right, and then will yourself to live more simply, then you too can afford to live the dream.

See you on the road! 🙂

drinking wine in van

Follow our adventures: @elisehalina


For more tips on saving and earning money while living on the road, read the Working and Money chapter of our Van Life Guide.


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