What most people want to know is: how much has a year of full time travelling cost us? It’s your lucky day as we look back over the past 12 months and break down exactly how much we’ve spent. This doesn’t take into account the purchase of the motorhome, initial insurance, van equipment (including our ebikes) and getting to Europe from Jersey via ferry (totalling approximately £29,000). We funded our travels by selling nearly everything we owned (our flat, car, motorbike, my businesses and anything we didn’t need to bring with us), by working extra jobs & hours for over a year and by working whilst we’re travelling (Callum is a freelance digital marketer).
2019 was a big year for us, deciding to leave everything we knew behind, buy a motorhome and travel Europe full time. It took us a few months to get into the travel life, figuring out how best to divide our budget between accommodation, food, fuel, fun and other expenses. Our budget was positively affected when we started wild camping which, of course, saved us lots on our accommodation expenses & gave us scope to spend that money elsewhere (doing fun things, going to attractions and eating out). Our budget changed as we visited different countries: some were more expensive but we drove more (Denmark, Norway & Sweden) and others were cheaper but we spent more on accommodation rather than wild camping (Albania & Croatia). Greece was a pretty much perfect 5 weeks for vanlife as we embraced wild camping, visiting natural wonders and also everything else was much cheaper: eating out, groceries and fuel.
A huge part of our budget in December (a month’s worth) went on ferries and accommodation over Christmas and New Year as went ventured to Malta to spend a month with friends and family and then we had extra expenses as we paid for activities and eating out with our friends and family, but for us, it was totally worth it for those memories and we would do it again! We decided to do as much as we could during this year, within our budget. Sometimes that means ‘splurging’ on fun times and cutting back on other expenses like a week of cheap pasta dinners so we can hang out with our friends.
2020 was a big year, not just for us but for the whole world, with covid-19 and that certainly affected our budget: reducing our fuel and van expenses drastically (because we were in lockdown for 3 months in Spain and then France) but increasing our accommodation and food budgets. Spain, like Greece, was one of our favourite places for van life and was great value for the money paid out per experience balance (a night out, free street carnival, tapas and sangria for €16.50 for the two of us!). After lockdown we had to adjust our budget again as we headed up to Scandinavia over the summer, stocking up on food supplies in Germany before we entered Denmark. Fuel in Scandinavia was REALLY expensive and we did a lot of driving so stocking up on cheaper food & the ability to wild camp & sustain ourselves certainly paid off.
Our last couple of weeks of the year, in September, were a little more expensive as we celebrated with friends in Amsterdam, but again, that was definitely worth it. We could have cut down our budget in lots of places and there are certainly ways of living this life more cheaply, but we’re happy with how we have spent our budget this year; doing as much as we can, whilst we still travel freely (thanks Brexit & covid!!).
Since we have mainly be spending Euros that’s what our budget is in, all other currencies have been converted to Euros using the exchange rate of the time. We were initially looking at a budget of about €1,000 per month all in, for the both of us, but looking back we probably should have been a bit more realistic and planned for about €1,500 per month. Dividing our total yearly spend of €20,515.62 by 12 months we have an average monthly spend of €1,709.64. Bearing in mind that during our year of travelling we have visited 20 countries and driven over 15,000 miles. Our life in the motorhome is less than the cost of our monthly expenses living in our flat in Jersey with mortgage payments, electric, water, internet, gas, phone, service charges, groceries and fuel considered… but no holidays. You could certainly travel less, relax more and save lots more money. This is what worked for us and we’ll break it down for you.
Food was our biggest expense of the year at €6155.18, nearly double the second biggest cost, fuel. Food in our budget includes groceries, drinks, take aways and eating out, plus food for Theodore (basically anything we might buy at a restaurant, cafe or supermarket). An average of €512.93 a month does seem quite high and varies depending on where we are, what we’re doing and who we’re with. A big part of our ‘fun’ budget is eating out or going for a drink, especially when we are with friends so it’s kind of part of our ‘activities’ budget too, but counted in ‘food’. Our cheapest months for food were August and September when we were in Scandinavia and had bought food in Germany for those 6 weeks, hence the expensive food bill in July (and we found a ‘British Shop’ in Belgium where we stocked up on goodies from home). During lockdown (March, April and May) our food budget was still over €400 per month whilst nearly all our other bills (except accommodation) were €0. I do cook a lot from scratch & we waste very little, which does bring our food budget down from what it could be.
Fuel & Accommodation
Our second and third biggest expenses were fuel (€3814.64) and accommodation (€3689.65). Fuel varies wildly from €520.88 & €593.89 in Scandinavia during July & August to €0 in April during lockdown in Spain. January-March were pretty cheap as fuel is usually under €1 per litre in Spain, another reason why we love it so much! We use an app called ‘cheap refuel’ as often as we can to direct us to the cheapest fuel stations but it isn’t available in every country, unfortunately. Having a smaller, lighter van would save you money on fuel and was certainly a consideration when we were choosing our motorhome but overall living space won out.
Accommodation costs vary hugely too; from just €18.42 in July when we were wild camping nearly every night to €712.56 in October, right at the start of our travels, when we thought we had to pay to stay at a campsite every night (rookie error!). Discovering aires and wild camping (sometimes called ‘off grid’ camping) have been some of the best things for us (& our budget) over the past 12 months. There’s lots of great advice out there, we’ve written our own tips for wild camping in Europe here. Our accommodation costs at air bnbs in Malta were split between all who stayed & our lockdown accommodation was more than we’d usually spend in a month but kept us safe whilst we couldn’t drive anywhere. Got to choose those priorities!
Repairs & Ferries
Repairs and ferries are next on our list at €1710.57 and €1767.40 respectively. Repairs cover any maintenance to the motorhome, including new tyres that we bought in Norway and servicing to the van that we had done in Malta and Spain (so far). If you know how to do vehicle repairs yourself you could save a bit of money here but keeping the motorhome safe and in good order isn’t something we’ll do without. It’s our transportation AND our home so is worth the money.
The ferries were partly a treat to ourselves (to get to Malta over Christmas and New Year) and also a choice we made between driving from Greece to Spain or taking ferries. It was about €500 more than if we’d driven when we weighed up fuel, wear & tear to the van/tyres and time taken on the road. Like I said above, we wanted to get the most out of this year of travelling & that meant seeing as much as we could whilst enjoying ourselves. We didn’t have many definite dates booked in for places we had to be but Malta was booked before we left Jersey, as a way to meet up with friends and family 3 months into our trip.
When we are looking at our budget the first thing we look at adjusting is what we spend on activities, which can be anything from visiting museums and theme parks to taking canal rides and hiring a rowing boat. Most of them are not necessary but they are fun! We have made some of our best travel memories at places that are pay to enter (find our favourite ones here) but we also love wild swimming, exploring nature and cycling on our bikes. Our e-bikes have actually been one of our greatest investments & allowed us to see much more than we would have been able to without them. They were a reasonably large cost to us before we left (around £1,400 for both) but have more than proved their worth. You can find our top free activities in Europe here.
We try to avoid toll roads now. Another thing we’ve learned during the year is that the shortest, quickest, most direct way isn’t necessarily the best. We prefer ‘life in the slow lane’. Toll roads can save you money on fuel & vehicle wear and tear but some of our favourite travel moments have been discovered on the ‘road less travelled’. Sometimes toll roads are unavoidable or an experience in themselves; the Øresund bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden, for example, was something that we were happy to pay to do as were the ferries and tunnels in Norway.
Laundry we do about every 7-10 days and is about €10-€20 depending if we can line dry our clothes instead of paying for a dryer. Sometimes the cost of laundry is included in our accommodation costs so I haven’t always split that up (just in case you thought we were super stinky in the months with €0 allowance for laundry!)
Our van, travel & health insurances we paid before we left Jersey, so they’re not included in the year’s budget as such but extra insurance for countries outside of the EU are (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro & Albania). Our annual vehicle insurance for full time travel in the EU is somewhere in the region of £1,600. It’s a bit trickier to find full time travel insurance (where you can be travelling for more than 90 days in a row) and coming from Jersey makes it even more difficult as some of the UK insurance companies don’t cover us. It definitely pays to ring around though and ask for several quotes.
Miscellaneous expenses cover everything else: postcards & stamps, repairs to the bikes, taking Theodore to the vet, medication, clothing etc. Minimising what we own and living in the motorhome for a year has helped us to see exactly how much we can live without. This year we have only made 6 clothing purchases between us: 1 pair of trainers, 1 pair of swim shorts, 2 t-shirts and new pants (underwear) for the both of us and they were all because what we had was now unwearable after being worn so often. We reuse & repurpose as much as we can including reusable shopping bags and net vegetable bags, using empty food packaging as rubbish bags, wax wraps, tubs and jars in the kitchen instead of cling film or aluminium foil, refillable plastic bottles instead of one use bottles, soap bars and shampoo bars instead of plastic bottles etc. It all cuts down on waste, to help us in our quest to become more sustainable but also cuts down on cost, which helps our budget.
We keep a note of every cent we spend, for our own budget but also because many people have asked us how much things have cost over the past year. We hope this has been some help to you if you are planning a full time van life adventure. Please let us know in your comments!