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8 Ways Vanlifers Can Save Money on the Road

Whether you’re a full time vanlifer, a road trip enthusiast, or a weekend warrior there are easy ways for everyone to save money on the road.

By: Bound For Nowhere + Save to a List

As full time vanlifers we’re always looking for ways to cut costs and save money because the more you save, the more you can put back into your travels to go further! Here are 8 ways that we've found to save while on the road:

1. Avoid Paying for Camping

Paying for camping every night adds up...really quickly. Thankfully, there are plenty of places to camp that are completely free! In our last year of being on the road we only paid for about 3 nights of camping and it came to a total of less than $50. Boondocking sites are often more quiet and secluded than your typical paid campground. U.S. organizations such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service often offer free camping on their managed land as long as you are 50 ft off of the road. We like to refer to a few different online resources to check for available camp sites, their rules and regulations, available amenities, as well as camper reviews:

**As always if you’re camping on public land please be sure to treat it with respect and leave it better than you found it for the next visitor.

Often times when you’re in-transit you’re not trying to find the perfect out-of-the-way camp spot. You’re just looking for a place to safely park and get some rest, before continuing your journey. We’ve found that the apps listed above (All Stays are also extremely helpful in finding rest stops, big box stores, and gas stations that allow overnight parking) are invaluable for a place to rest and are far cheaper than renting a hotel room.

2. Make Your Own Meals

Second to saving money on camping, making your own meals is one of the greatest money savers for vanlife. As fun as eating out can be, we really try to keep it to a minimum. When we’re making all our own food we spend $100 a week on average for groceries for the two of us. That comes out to a little more than $7 a day per person and only about $2.30 a meal. You’d be hard pressed to find a meal that cheap anywhere! To stay committed to making our own meals we’ve found that it’s really important to stay inspired and find new camping/van cooking friendly meals. We frequently will find amazing ideas here on The Outbound as well as the amazing camp cooking blog over at Fresh Off the Grid.

3. Make Your Own Coffee in the Morning

The average cup of coffee in the U.S. costs $3.94 with tip, that doesn’t sound like much but coffee for one week at that price, is just shy of $40. Making your own coffee is not only cheaper, but you will also have it made the way you like it every time! There’s a small upfront investment in the coffee brewer of your choice, such as an AeroPress or pour over, but it won’t take long for the coffee system to start paying for itself!

Pro tip: spend a little extra for beans that you really love, you’ll be that much more excited to wake up and make your own coffee.

4. Low Cost Shower Options

Hygiene in vanlife is one of the most frequent questions we get asked about. Showers can come from many different places, but we try to gravitate towards the free options! We find that beach parks, campgrounds, and gyms have great, well maintained shower facilities that are often free! However, in times when we’re in more remote places we tend to rely on ourselves for our showers. We use a pressured shower bag (pictured above) that heats up in the sun. This shower bag is great because it’s extremely compact, and can be filled up at any spigot or stream you may have on hand. It’s prefect for remote showers as well as rinsing down wetsuits and other gear!

5. Purchase Second Hand Gear

Outdoor gear can be very expensive. When we’re on the market for new gear, be it anything from clothes to a roof box, buying it second hand is a great way to get what we need for far less. Bonus: it’s also environmentally responsible. Win/win!

6. Find Your Entertainment Outdoors

If you're here on the Outbound (which you are if you're reading this)...I don’t need to convince you that the outdoors are an entertaining place to be! A weekend spent outside hiking, camping, fishing, surfing, climbing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, or bird watching is far cheaper than a weekend at an amusement park. Find something you love to do outside and it will in-turn save you money and help you explore the places that you happen to find yourself in.

7. Use a Parks Pass

Last year alone we went to 14 National Parks, but thankfully we have a U.S. National Parks Pass. The annual pass will run you $80 but it gives you free access to over 2000 Federal Recreation sites and Wildlife Refuges. Some National Parks can have entry fees as high as $35, so in as few as three visits the parks pass will pay for itself. The more you visit, the more you save!

8. Exercise Outside

Carrying a gym membership or just paying drop in rates when you have access to a fitness center can add up really quickly. We’ve come to rely on getting our exercise outside on a day to day basis. Going for a run, walk, or hike from where you’re camping is a great way to explore your new surroundings and work up a sweat. We recommend carrying compact work out gear such as a yoga mat, small foam roller, and a jump rope because they're small and can help you squeeze in a work out when and where it’s needed.

Side note on the jump rope: If you surf in places that are cold, I highly recommend putting on your wetsuit then doing 100 jump ropes before hopping in the water! It'll warm your muscles up and keep you warm in the water longer!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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