A young women cringes as she reads gas prices at a pump.

Where Have All the Vanlifers Gone?

For the last couple of years, we’ve seen a massive increase in nomads choosing to embrace vanlife. Seriously, what’s not to love about a lifestyle that allows you to be almost entirely self-sufficient and take your home with you on some once-in-a-lifetime adventures? It’s a pretty incredible way to live.

However, not many vanlifers anticipated what rising gas prices would mean for their adventures. Many of their travels came to a screeching halt over the last year.

So where have all the vanlifers gone during this time? Let’s find out.

A young women cringes as she reads gas prices at a pump.

Who Are Vanlifers?

Vanlifers are people who have embraced the idea of living tiny by traveling in a van. They customize their vans to make the most of traveling and often share their adventures on social media under #vanlife. It was a unique way of traveling before 2020.

With travel restrictions in full force, traveling was nearly impossible. Vanlife became an easy way to stay away from other people while still making memories and seeing the country. It quickly became trendy, and some of the best places for peace and quiet were no longer that way.

A camper van parked between two cars along the side of the road lined with palm trees and forest.

Where Have All the Vanlifers Gone? (no gas money)

If you’ve had to fill up your gas tank lately, you know that getting the gas gauge off empty can take a small fortune. The vans used by vanlifers use tons of fuel, especially since most don’t stay in one place for too long. 

Many of these nomads hit the road wanting a budget-friendly way to travel compared to the expense of a house or apartment. That may have been true when they started, and gas averaged $2.17 per gallon in 2020. But that’s not the case in 2022, when AAA reports the national average is hovering around $5 per gallon.

Vanlifers didn’t move into a van to sit stationary at a campsite or driveway. They embarked on fulfilling a sense of adventure.

We’ve seen many of these people who have embraced the lifestyle making the tough choice of selling their vans at a massive loss and moving back into apartments.

Why Are Gas Prices so High?

Anytime gas prices skyrocket, everybody starts pointing fingers. We typically hear that it’s the greedy oil companies or whoever is occupying the White House at the time. Many also blame foreign leaders for causing the issue.

However, there’s typically never just one person or reason. It’s often the perfect storm of conditions that causes the massive tsunami of prices at the pump.

Currently, the world is facing a war in Ukraine, sanctions on the involved countries, and peak travel season. And the oil market is completely unstable. With so many factors at play, it’s hard to know which impacts the prices we see at the pump.

You also have to consider that this is the first summer in two years where much of the country no longer faces restrictions in terms of travel or mask requirements. When the demand for a product increases, the prices follow.

A conceptual photo of a person putting fifty dollar bills into the gas tank of a vehicle.

Will Gas Prices Come Back Down?

What goes up must come down eventually. Right? Well, that’s the hope anyway. We don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but we’re hopeful that prices will drop soon.

President Joe Biden has called on Congress to pause taxes on fuel to help ease the pain many Americans face. We have also heard the same regarding state gasoline tax.

The President calls on Congress to help American’s who are hurting from high gas prices.

If these two tax pauses were to occur, many Americans would see an instant $.50 or more per gallon drop. Tax-heavy states like California would see a nearly $.70 per gallon decrease.

However, this tactic often robs Peter to pay Paul. The government would likely need to raise taxes elsewhere to compensate for the lost revenue.

Money-Saving Tips for Vanlifers

If you’re one of those vanlifers that hasn’t started waving the white flag of surrender, we’ve got a few money-saving tips to keep you on the road. Let’s look at what you can do to save money and keep you and your van on some epic adventures.

Drive Slower

One of the best ways to improve your miles per gallon is to drive slower. The faster you go, the harder your engine has to work. The harder your engine works, the more gas you have to use.

In reality, you’re only getting to your destination a minute or two earlier but using a tremendous amount more gas the faster you drive.

The Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy found that fuel economy was 27% lower by driving 80 mph compared to 60. The same study also found that the optimal speed for fuel efficiency was 40 to 50 mph.

You can’t always go 40 or 50 mph on the interstate, but you might want to think twice about going faster than you have to when driving.

A vanlifer digs around in his van which is piled with possessions.

Reduce Weight

Anytime you make your engine work harder than it needs to, you sacrifice fuel efficiency. Getting rid of any unused items you have lying inside your vehicle can reduce your weight.

The U.S. Department of Energy found that for every extra 100 lbs, you reduce your fuel efficiency between 6% and 17% when traveling at highway speeds.

This is why we encourage full-time travelers to invest in lithium batteries. These batteries weigh half the amount of standard batteries, which means you can easily save 50 or 60 lbs if you have even a small battery bank. You get a longer-lasting battery that weighs less too.

In many cases, RV Lithium batteries won’t save you money. Find out if they’re right for you.

Stay Closer to Home

Keeping your trips somewhat local might be best if you still want to adventure. It might not be the best time to make that cross-country road trip. Use the opportunity to save money by visiting your area’s nearby county, state, or national parks.

Hike trails or walk through nature and visitor centers that you might drive past on your way to grandeur places. You just might discover that you don’t have to travel across the country to see something incredible or experience something new. It just might be waiting for you in your own backyard.

A van parked in a neighborhood with evening traffic bustling around it.

Use Gas Cards and Apps

We’re likely in different tax brackets if you’re not using GasBuddy to save on gas. It’s a fantastic way to find the cheapest places to fill up near you.

We frequently use it when we’re in an unfamiliar area and looking for a spot to top off our tank. We’ve found prices can vary $.30 or more between stations practically right next to each other.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to join loyalty programs, especially free ones. The pump may ask for your phone number, but you can save $.03 to $.10 per gallon, depending on the gas station.

You may also earn discounts by buying snacks and drinks too. Even if you don’t plan to be loyal to the gas station, you might as well enjoy the discount.

Stay in One Place Longer

Fight the urge to be on the go constantly. When gas was cheaper, staying a day or two and moving on to the next thing was easy. However, this is a good opportunity to experience more of what each destination offers.

Instead of camping for a day or two, stay a bit longer. If you can extend it to four to seven days, you can experience more of the local favorites and learn more about each stop in your journey.

This can drastically reduce the miles you drive and help you get the most out of each trip to the gas station. You may even find hidden gems that you might have passed up for the sake of time.

An off-road class b motorhome traverses a dirt road with a beautiful view of mountains and a valley below.

Save Money in Other Ways

Adjustments in other areas of your life will help soften the blow to your bank account and travel budget. Reduce the frequency of going out to eat. Or look for free activities in the area and campgrounds that offer discounts. You can also join clubs or memberships.

This is also a good time to consider memberships for places like Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome, and other camping memberships. You may also want to consider boondocking on public lands, which is typically free and allows you to stay for up to two weeks in some locations.

How Do Vanlifers Make Money?

Many vanlifers continue to work from the road. While a select few have YouTube or social media followings that generate revenue, that’s not always the case.

Many work remotely in many different types of jobs. Writers, artists, and online teaching have become popular ways for people to work while traveling.

Many employers now encourage employees to work from home. Companies typically don’t care whether your home is on wheels or not, as long as you continue to work efficiently and effectively.

Looking out over an ocean sunset from the back doors of a camper van.

Why Do People Quit Vanlife?

One of the toughest things about vanlife is when the reality sets in that it’s not all puppy dogs and rainbows. Many social media accounts and YouTube videos don’t do a great job of highlighting the negative aspects.

It’s not easy, it’s often more expensive, and traveling can be incredibly lonely. Vanlife is not for everyone.

Another mistake people often make when jumping into the nomadic life is underestimating how many things will go wrong. Flat tires and many vehicular issues can occur.

It’s not a question of if something will break, but when. Constantly dealing with having to fix things can be a bit overwhelming for many people.

The last thing that often leads people to quit vanlife is their budget. Budgeting is essential when traveling, and variable expenses like fuel can quickly add up. Most travelers pay at least double for fuel than what they anticipated. Seeing your bank account in the negative will quickly send you home.

Can You Still Vanlife Without Breaking the Bank?

Despite the increased costs at the pump, it’s still possible to have an incredible experience and enjoy vanlife without spending your entire life savings.

Slow down and enjoy activities that are inexpensive or free. It just might surprise you how many amazing events you can find at state parks that are entertaining, educational, and friendly on your budget.

You can find plenty of places where you can park your van for free so you can save money to help keep fuel in your tank. Make a game by seeing how long a tank of gas can last. It might surprise you how many non-essential trips to Walmart and other stores you make.

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