Is Van life Cheaper than Renting?

Story Highlights
  • 1) Kitting out your vehicle for the van life
  • 2) Maintenance
  • 3) Van life = fuel (and lots of it)
  • 4) Utilities
  • 5) Funding the van life

Perhaps you have already heard of couples and families living the van life.

Making the decision to sell everything, pack up and travel a country is a trend that is sweeping the globe.

Social media is loaded with photos of happy people ditching their 9-5 jobs to become permanent travellers.

Whilst this is, of course, the dream for most, the question is always: is it really cheaper than renting a place or buying a house?

Certainly, it is not an easy decision at all. Let’s look at the costs associated with this nomadic lifestyle. 

1) Kitting out your vehicle for the van life

Van life can be cheaper than renting if you do enough research.

The average cost of rent in South Africa is about R8000 per month. Thus buying a van brand-new before turning it into a home on wheels might not be the best solution.

Many van-lifers opt for the cheaper route and buy a used van that they renovated themselves. Some people have scooped buses and minibuses for between R35 000-R100 000. You will then have to kit it out and renovate it to suit your needs. This can cost anywhere from R100 000 upwards.

Bear in mind that it takes time to soup up your van. You could be waiting a whole year before you can travel and then you still have to pay rent while you work on your van. 

2) Maintenance

Your van will go through a lot as you hit the road so regular maintenance is a must. You don’t want to stand somewhere in the middle of nowhere without someone to help.

Make sure that you check your van for roadworthiness in every major town you pass.

Depending on how far you drive in the month, you might need to check it more than you used to when driving a normal car to and from work.

Part of maintenance includes getting a comprehensive insurance plan. Insurance providers usually offer roadside assistance in cases of emergencies and this can be very beneficial if you are thinking of taking the road less travelled. 

3) Van life = fuel (and lots of it)

This might be a big concern to most people, especially since the sharp increase in fuel prices.

The amount your pay for fuel will depend on how far you drive per month.

If you are going to drive from city to city and stay over in one place for a few months, then your fuel won’t be too much. But if you are planning on sleeping in your van for a week or so and then hitting the road again, you will pay a little bit more.

In the first case, however, you will be paying for accommodation. In the latter case, you will save on accommodation.

You need to do enough research to see how it will even out in the end. 

4) Utilities

Unfortunately, you can’t escape the joys of paying for utilities. The only difference is that you aren’t getting a water and lights account at the end of the month.

You will need to think of gas and gas refills if you are cooking in your van.

Water supply is another thing to consider. Many people rely on the campsites where they stay for free ablution and washing up facilities.

You will also need to think of a way to do laundry or spend money at a laundromat. If you are working remotely, you will definitely have to pay for an internet connection.

These might be a bit cheaper than paying your usual utility bill at the end of the month. 

5) Funding the van life

On the topic of working remotely, you need to be able to work remotely if you are going to live the van life.

Unless you have a few bucks in your savings account, you will need a monthly income to fund your lifestyle.

A lot of people opt for online teaching because it is quite easy to get qualified and you can teach wherever whilst on the road.

The downside, however, is when you are in an area with a bad internet connection. You might not even be able to connect and the more hours you lose, the more money you lose.

Many jobs have also made remote working an option for their employees. If your job allows this, you can efficiently work from a laptop in your van.

Again, the internet connection might still be a big problem. 

Final thoughts

Van life is a great way to see the country and escape the monotony of everyday life.

If you work smart, it can be cheaper than renting but there are many factors to consider. It is also important to note that you need quite a bit of capital to buy a van and turn it into something amazing.

Do enough research and check your finances before taking the leap. 

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