“Van life”: How Much Does Overnight Parking Cost?

If you want to live on the road in the United States and would like to get an idea of budget for parking and camping, hopefully I can help as I did keep track of everything we spent for campgrounds and other overnight parking so far. We have been spending about $25 per night on average over 6 months. You can find everything inside the spreadsheet at the bottom of this article.

Paid vs. Free Campgrounds, Facilities vs. Off-grid

We use both paid and free campsites, especially in State & National Parks, or National Forests and BLM-managed land. We are not producing our own electricity and we rely on external facilities to take a shower, etc, so we are somewhat limited in the number of consecutive days of free dry camping we can handle (after a week, we really need a shower and to plug all our stuff). There are ways to not spend any money on overnight parking if your van is equipped for off-grid living, as you can use free primitive campsites every day, or stealth camping in cities.

Even if we camp most of the time, we have been using motels when we felt the need to (too cold, too rainy, etc), and AirBnb in cities we really wanted to visit. We have had the chance to be hosted by amazing friends, or friends of friends.

We have never used Walmart and other free overnight parking lots and probably won’t. It feels really creepy with a small car.

Average cost of a campsite (electric, per night) so far: $25

Alternative Overnight Parking

We recently started doing Wwoofing, which allows us to stay for free on our host’s property.  We are investigating other alternative accommodations & parking options like House Sitting, that can also help lower the cost significantly.

Eastern USA vs. Western USA?

The Eastern part of the US is much more expensive, as there are less campsites, less to no free campsites, no BLM-managed land. After we crossed Nebraska, we found many more free or very cheap campsites in National Forests and significantly started reducing our parking costs.

I hope that this spreadsheet can be used as a budgeting reference and be useful for future vandwellers. If you don’t see the spreadsheet below, follow this link. Thanks to Nomads With A Van for giving me the idea of tracking our expenses this way.

Happy travels!

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