You are all set. You got your ticket, luggage and cash for a van, ready to travel in the land of adventure- New Zealand. One of the bigger questions on anyone's mind when they arrive looking to travel or live in a van is: how much is it all going to cost?
EXACTLY HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO LIVE IN A VAN?
If you are travelling to New Zealand, the following information might be a good indication of what sort of costs you can expect if you want to travel or live in a van. This may also be comparable in other countries that may be similar to New Zealand, such as Australia, though places like the United States will probably be cheaper.
It’s important to remember that the cost of living in New Zealand is quite high, so extra effort is needed if you want to live a frugal life.
So without further ado, here are the vanlife costs for myself and my partner Lanna, we had over a 6 month period, which was the duration of time living in our van.
The total for 6 months in 2018 was $17,113 NZD
or a average monthly cost of $1686 (excluding the van).
Some of these amounts were quite a bit higher than for your average backpacker, so here’s a explanation of it all:
► The Van
There's a good time to buy vans in New Zealand, and it wasn’t when we arrived in January! Shoulder seasons like April/May and September/October will be better for picking vans up at reasonable prices. In general, vans have a premium on them due to this popular mode of travel, so expect enormous markups!
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Driving around isn’t cheap! In addition to tax on the fuel, many locations are far flung from the population centers so its always going to be more expensive to get the fuel to those locations. We found one emergency pump that was selling fuel for over $4 per litre ($15 US gallon)! The average price (October 2018) was $2.30 / L but expect it to routinely be 20-30% higher.
► Car Insurance
We went for comprehensive cover and multiple extras like windscreen damage repair. You basic car insurance to cover any damage you do to another person or vehicle will be around the $120 mark. This is what most people get.
► Car Maintenance
This will differ from each vehicle but always allow a decent repair budget. A good start is $2000 or a minimum of $1000 as emergency repair cash. In our case, we repaired things others would have probably left. We bought brand new all terrain tyres as the ones on it when we bought it were mismatched, a common theme in NZ vans we noticed. The people we bought the van off had spent far more than us on the van, racking up over $3000 of repairs in a 3 month period.
We didn’t eat cheap, we bought what we wanted and had plenty of fruit and vegetables. No meat however, which would have been far more expensive. If you want to eat noodles and tuna for your entire trip, you can halve our costs!
► Eating out
When we felt like it, we had dinner or lunches at cafes or restaurants. We didn’t aim to do this all the time, but when we felt like a change or were very tired after coming back from a big hike or climb, we would be open to the idea of a night off cooking.
► Cooking Gas
This was surprisingly cheap! Having a proper gas cooker ($80 for cooker + $45 for 2kg gas bottle) was very cost efficient for gas usage. A re-fill usually cost between $4-7 and lasted a long time.
► Internet (data plans)
While we used free wifi whenever possible, it’s not everywhere in New Zealand like other countries. Working on my laptop a lot, I got a good amount of data to do so. The average traveller can get by with a lot less of course.
► Accommodation & Showers
When the weather was very wet or we needed some extra space to sort gear after trips, we stayed in hostel accommodation. On top of that, we showered whenever we could. Showers cost $2-7.
All clothes and bedding were washed regularly in laundromats. We tried hand washing a few times but this wasn’t as efficient and wasted a fair bit of time we could be doing other things. A weekly wash including using the dryer was $8 almost everywhere.
This was anything we bought to upgrade the van or make life more comfortable. A $80 wool duvet in winter, a $200 mattress to replace the sagging original, and all the little bits and pieces that made everything better while living in the van.
Not included in our list was a fun category as almost everything we did was free, but paid for in gear. Activities such as hiking, rock climbing and canyoning cost a little to start up, but are generally free to continue until you need to replace certain gear. We also didn’t include any personal shopping we did. A new camera lens, outdoor clothes, a new rope. These are all things not relevant to the average traveller.
With no intention of doing it as cheaply as we could, but also not throwing cash to the wind, our costs would be close to what you could expect doing it our way.
But not everyone wants to do things this way and many want to save were they can. So how much would it cost then?
HOW TO SAVE MONEY WHILE LIVING IN A VAN
Most travellers will optimise their route so they don’t visit the same places twice. As we were aiming to do activities like our climbing or canyoning multiple times in the same spot but on different occasions, we drove around a fair amount more than the average vanlifer. Also, consider using an app like Gaspy (which we only found later) to find the cheapest fuel around. You can see more handy apps on my list for NZ travel.
Unlike our choices in groceries, if you go seasonal vegetables and cut down on the fancy stuff and go a little more basic, you can essentially take 20-30% off the groceries cost in the table, if you are very frugal. It goes without saying that eating out is extremely expensive in New Zealand. Cook your own food to save!
This one is simple, if it rains a lot, you still spend it in the van! You can live for free practically by staying in your van if it is self contained. If you want a break, they don’t beat yourself up over a few nights here or there. Budget for a few nights each month anyway, just in case.
► Van upgrades
You can source many items from second hand stores or other places if you want to upgrade your van. We splurged on a lot of things to make life pretty damn comfortable, but you can get by without many of these.
► Van maintenance and repairs
This will be a highly situational as some vans break down more than others. Allow a good amount for repairs anyway and if you haven’t spent it close to the end of your trip, treat yourself to some fun activities and nights out!
By saving as much as possible, most people can reduce their costs to close to $1000 per month! It takes some dedication but can easily be done with proper meal and shopping planning.
Are you ready for your trip to New Zealand? Seeing the country by van is a fun, adventure filled journey, but don’t forget to leave no trace by disposing of all rubbish in bins, and using public toilets or your on-board toilet (if self contained) rather than going in the bushes.
For more information on freedom camping in New Zealand, check out this post:
Freedom Camping in New Zealand. What Is It? and How to Do it Right!
Got questions? Fire away in the comments or send me an email! Happy travels!