Van Life Money Saving Hacks
There are so many different reasons for getting in to van life. For some, like us, it was for freedom to travel more, for others it’s about seeking an alternative, off-grid lifestyle and for others still it might be to avoid high rental costs or mortgages. What ever your reason for living or traveling in a van if you’re anything like us you’ll always be on the look out for van life money saving ideas! After all, the less you spend on a everyday items the more you have for splashing out on adventures, tours and ski passes!
We’ve put together a list of our best van life money saving ideas so far. Let us know what we’ve missed in the comments below, we’re always looking for new ones! We’ve split them in to two sections: Before you hit the Road and On the Road, so you can head to the section that most interests you.
Before you Hit the Road
1. Join a cash back website
Whether you’re knee deep in van build mode with parcels arriving every day or you’re booking ferries for an upcoming trip we’d 100% recommend joining a cash back website. They’re free to join (some take a small fee from your earnings monthly) and you earn a small percentage back on qualifying purchases you make online. It’s usually between 2-10% of a sale you’ll make back but it doesn’t cost you anything extra and every little bit helps! Between us Will and I have earned over £3000 this way (over a few years). It takes a few months before you get paid but it’s a nice extra little bit of pocket money. We definitely appreciated it when we were buying lots online during our van conversion. You can also purchase services in this way too, for example we got £35 cash back on our European Breakdown Cover.
There are quite a few websites out there but we use Quidco. Join with this link and we’ll both receive £10 (see terms on website). Bonus!
2. Join a club
If you’d told me a few years ago I’d be a member of the Caravan and Motorhome club I would definitely have laughed! I mean it’s not one I’m particularly keen to shout about, but… they offer great discounts so can be a great van life money saving option! You need to balance it out against the membership fee but many caravan/camping clubs offer discounts at outdoor gear shops, attractions, ferries and more. We almost always book our ferries through them as they’re 15% cheaper, they also have fuel card offers for cheaper diesel and you can get 15% off at Costa too! We’ve never stayed at one of their campsites yet but I guess the option is there!
3. Credit card rewards
Heavy disclaimer on this one first of all… make sure you’re in control of your spending before you consider this one, you don’t want to end up with unmanageable debts! Credit cards often come with some kind of reward incentive (to encourage you to spend!). We primarily use credit cards for our normal spending and then pay them off each month. This way we can earn rewards on our everyday spending. These rewards include air miles, hotel points and general supermarket points (e.g. Clubcard or Nectar) that can be turned in to ferry vouchers, restaurant vouchers, air miles and lots more. Again, you probably won’t get rich this way but they’re a nice little extra on the side. We’ve had some lovely free hotel nights and a free trip to Disneyland Paris this way!
4. Avoid oversees transaction fees
If you’re travelling in another country and use you debit/credit card to withdraw money or buy an item your bank will charge an oversees transaction fee on top of the conversion rate. If you’re travelling long term this can add up. There are a few accounts you can get that don’t charge these fees but there are also other options. We use a Curve Card. Curve is a smart payment card as opposed to a bank account or credit card. You pay with your Curve Card and the payment is processed via whichever credit/debit card you currently have set in your Curve app. There’s no oversees transaction fees (limits vary depending on the Curve Card you pick) and the exchange rate is very competitive and always better than our standard bank one. The other advantage is you still earn the rewards on your credit card. Win win.
The other thing we like about Curve is the transaction pings up on your phone straight away. You can see exactly how much you’re spending and if anything looks unusual you can instantly block the card via the app. I use the free option but if you pay a small amount per month you can also get other benefits including worldwide travel insurance, gadget insurance and airport lounge access. If you fancy giving it a try use this link and we’ll both get £5 when you make just one transaction.
5. Bank account rewards
Continuing the money theme… some bank accounts give you travel insurance, roadside assistance, mobile phone insurance etc for a small monthly fee. Often this fee is cheaper than taking out individual policies. If two of you are travelling make this account a joint account and the rewards will cover both of you for no extra cost.
6. Join hotel reward schemes
This is especially beneficial if you ever travel for work and can book you own hotels! Many hotel companies and websites offer reward schemes that add up to free nights. We use hotels.com and for every 10 nights we get one free. Will used to travel a lot with work so we saved all these free nights up and used them when we couldn’t stay in the van. We used a couple of free nights during our stay in the Arctic when we needed a night of luxury and a long shower! We also stayed in Vegas last year for four nights and only paid taxes.
7. Avoid roaming charges
If you’re travelling a lot and work on the road ensuring access to the internet is essential. Our first few months on the road we were constantly running out of roaming data and having to spend a lot of money to purchase more. We now use Voxi for unlimited mobile roaming (find out how we get internet on the road here) and it’s saved us a small fortune! If you decide to get a sim from them make sure you use this link and we’ll both get an Amazon gift card!
On the Road
8. Avoid campsites
Campsites are great in areas where wild camping isn’t allowed or when you need space to relax, spring clean and do some laundry. If you use campsites every night though the costs will quickly mount up. We’ve only used campsite on three occasions I can think of although we use official camper van areas (or Stellplatz) more frequently. These are much cheaper and great if you need to top up on power/water or need to be in a town. Usually we’re out in the middle of nowhere and park for free, you can read how we find our overnight parking spots here.
9. Use free water sources
I’d say we fill our water tank up for free around 80% of the time. We have a 100lt tank that we fill using a hose pipe so need a suitable tap for this. Usually either by chance or looking at comments on the Park4Night app we can find free places to do this. Places to try for free water are cemeteries, parks, community centres and some petrol stations (we always buy fuel and check with them first). It’s a little harder in winter as taps are often turned off.
If your water system is set up for filling bottles instead of a tank it’s usually much easier as many towns have free drinking water fountains. My advice would be to fill up whenever you see a tap, even if you still have water left. It’s always harder to find a tap when you’ve completely run out of water!
10. Avoid toll roads
As a general rule, avoid toll roads as much as you can, especially French motorways! You’ll usually find some lovely places by getting off the motorways and can save yourself a lot of money. This isn’t always the case though, and it does depend which country you’re in. We spent ages avoiding an Italian motorway only to find out it was just a few Euro’s any way. Likewise in northern Norway it was easier to pay the toll (you need to register for them online) than avoid it as the detour was often a lot longer and therefore cost considerably more in diesel.
11. Plan your route
I’m definitely speaking from experience on this one! We are terrible at planning and usually don’t book things as early as we should. When we drove through Denmark into Sweden we had no idea how expensive the bridges were, and if we’d booked them in advance online we could have significantly reduced the price. We could also have saved money by going an alternative route and taking the ferry. When we travelled through Norway we spent a lot of time around the fjords which meant a lot of ferries and that definitely added up. It was a beautiful route but we could probably have found cheaper options if we’d planned ahead.
12. Slow down!
We’re still learning the art of slow travel! It’s hard to get used to not being in a hurry to get somewhere! Slowing down will not only increase your miles/kilometers to the gallon (and therefore saving you money) but it’s also much more enjoyable. Get off the motorways, take the back roads and enjoy the journey. I’m still trying to convince Will it’s ok not to be the fastest on the road!!
13. Think about where you buy your diesel
Petrol stations on motorways are always more expensive. Usually if you look on an app or google maps you can find a petrol station a few miles off the main road that’s significantly cheaper. If you’re travelling in Europe and near a country border it’s also worth googling petrol prices between the two countries. Prices can vary significantly between countries due to different tax rates. There is nothing worse than filling up only to cross the border a few miles down the road and see you’ve paid a lot more than you needed too!
14. Avoid city parking costs
If you’re heading in to a major city parking is not only expensive it can also be a nightmare! Many city centres have narrow streets and aren’t particularly van friendly. Some also now have low emission zones that your van may or may not fall short of. Try and park outside of the city and use public transport to get in. Many cities have official Park and Ride schemes or you can make use of tram/bus networks. We always check feedback from other people on Park4Night when parking in cities to ensure nobody has had issues with theft where we’re leaving the van.
Family and friends always ask us about food on our travels. The truth is we rarely eat out! Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to sample the local cuisine every night and not have to do the dishes but the reality is we’d quickly run out of money! We’re not on holiday, so we treat life on the road as we would life in a house. We’ll splash out every now and then or treat ourselves if we’re celebrating something but most of the time we cook and eat in our van. Food and diesel are our biggest expenses, by cooking for ourselves we can not only save a lot of money but we’re usually healthier that way too.
16. Don’t buy coffee!
I’m a tea drinker so this one is much less of a problem for me, but if you’re like Will and love a nice coffee then this one will probably hurt! It’s definitely possible to make nice coffee in a van and you can save a lot of money that way. £6 every day on coffee (and inevitably cake if you’re Will!) adds up to a lot of money! If you really need a coffee fix take you own travel mug as most places will knock a little bit off and you can feel slightly less guilty!
We hope you’ve found these money saving ideas useful. Where we’ve recommended a particular product or service please always ensure you read the small print and make sure it’s the right thing for you before making a purchase. Please also note rewards schemes and referral offers may have changed since publishing this post and unfortunately this is beyond our control!