June 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

Smokey wears his mask when he is out and ablout. Do you?

We did a bit more traveling in the month of June, leaving Utah, heading north through Nevada and on into Idaho – our first new state in the 3 1/2 years we have been roaming around in Ballena Blanca. Since the pandemic is still not under control and we change locations so often we continue to take precautions. We always wear our masks when out in public. And because one can have the virus for up to two weeks without symptoms – thereby spreading it without even realizing it – we only shop and do necessary chores where we might encounter other people biweekly.

As I have mentioned before we now have enough vessels to carry two weeks of water. We have always been extra careful with our water use and have learned ways to wash dishes and ourselves using the bare minimum, leaving plenty to hydrate with. Storing food and drink for two weeks can be a bit of a challenge at times but I have found that by doing laundry on the same day we buy food creates an exchange of space – Once the space where dirty laundry lives is emptied, we have extra storage space for grocery store purchases. As we eat and drink, more room is once again made for dirty laundry.

We have an 84-quart top-opening Engel refrigerator so we can carry lots of fresh food but storage can still be a bit of a challenge. I like to drink a green smoothie as my first meal every day but the bananas we use to make them won’t last for two weeks. So I make granola bars and store them in the fridge for when our smoothies ingredients run out. I like to keep my bread products in the fridge to make them last longer but often times the fridge is so full after a grocery trip, I have no room. I’ve learned that all the tasty Trader Joes bread products I love don’t last very long without cooling – Walmart bread products – no problem. Sometimes I want some healthy leafy greens, so salad nights happen soon after shopping trips before the lettuce wilts and gets beat up stacked in the fridge. Cabbage, on the other hand, will last forever and can be crammed into any little corner in the refrigerator until I need it. Carrots are also good lasters, as well as onions and garlic. A bell pepper might get a little shriveled looking but once you cut it up and cook it with chili or stirfry it it’s fine.

I actually like our two-week schedule although it usually takes all day to do our laundry, do a big grocery shop, hit any other stores for items we can’t find during our big grocery shop, and then put everything away in Ballena Blanca. It is nice to have fewer receipts at the end of the month to go through and to not worry about running out of things. I always make sure we have backups of things like toothpaste, our favorite specialty foods, spices, and plenty of toilet paper.

Two weeks worth of groceries.

Notes about us, some of our expenses, and our rig:

  • All expenses are in US dollars.
  • We drive a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van that we upfitted ourselves to live in. Currently, the van gets about 17 miles to the gallon.
  • Our van is registered in Florida as a standard cargo van. Our van insurance is through USAA.
  • We are vegetarians and we cook – eating little packed or prepared food.
  • We get our health insurance through the ACA exchange in Florida. Our insurance is very basic and is mostly good only in Florida where we are residents, but hardly ever visit. Our costs for health insurance are one of the few things we don’t include in this report.
  • Our phone plan is with Google Fi. We pay a monthly fee of $70 plus tax which gives us unlimited calling and text and up to 22 gigs of highspeed internet, after which it slows down. Our data plan works internationally with no extra cost. With Google Fi we can make phone calls over wifi from our phone, tablet, or computer. The plan provides an extra sim card for our table at no extra cost. At any time we can switch to a metered plan which costs $20 a month for phone and text and $10 for each gig of data we use.
  • We receive our mail through St. Brendan’s Isle in Green Cove Springs, Florida. We pay $11.99 per month for the basic service plus an extra $7.99 to have the envelopes scanned and small additional fees to have the envelopes opened and the contents scanned. There are additional charges if we want anything sent to us on the road. We keep $100 in an account with the service. When this runs low they charge us for another $100.
  • Our dentist is in Los Algodones, Mexico. If you would like to read more about our experience with our Mexican dentist, click here.
Leaving Utah for Nevada.

And our total expenses for June were…


Here is the break down of categories…

Expenses June 2020
Gas $273.09
Insurance/Registration $77.83
Maintenance $661.84
Repairs $0.00
Van Total $1,012.76
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $0.00
Utilities $11.70
Camping $96.04
Household $4.24
Laundry $18.00
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $0.00
Van Life Total $129.98
Phone $77.18
Mail $0.00
Communication Total $77.18
Food $289.44
Booze $140.35
Cleaning/Paper Products $20.00
Medicine Cabinet $16.05
Consumables Total $465.84
Drinks/Eating Out $0.00
Museums/Attractions/Music $5.50
Entertainment Total $5.50
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $4.24
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $4.24
Clothes $0.00
Gifts/Charity $16.95
Gear $15.00
Personal Total $31.95
*Utilities include our water, propane for the stove and heater, and items that are required to run our composting toilet.
*Gear is anything we think we need but probably don’t. These are the things that make our life more fun, interesting, keep us entertained and informed. Our NY Times subscription goes here. As well as expenses for hobbies, computer devices, books, kayaks, bikes, etc. These are the things that make us not quite minimalist.

So if you just subtract that big ol’ van maintenance expense of $661.84, it was a pretty good month. But you gotta have tires.

While we were at a Ford Dealership in Boise, Idaho for a routine oil change, we asked them to look at one of our tires. It had had a slow leak since we left Tucson back in early March. Greg had been keeping an eye on it, filling it up in the mornings but overnight it continued to lose pressure. Greg tried fix-a-flat and spent a long time trying to locate the source of the problem to no avail.

The Ford place found the problem, a piece of metal that they couldn’t get out without destroying the tire. This meant a new tire but because the tires were so worn we needed another to balance it. Throw in an alignment and labor and we were over $600.

You might also notice that we spent way more on camping than we usually do. Convenience and reasonable prices (a couple of these campgrounds were only $5 per night) made it easy. The most expensive camping we did was at Bruneau Dunes State Park ($23.02, including tax and entry to the park). I thought we were going to get showers out of the deal but for some reason, although everything else in the park was open including bathrooms the showers were closed due to the virus.

Next, we are off to Montana, where we will continue to enjoy this amazing country, wear our masks, do our part to keep this virus from spreading and keep other people safe.

Saw this along the road to Great Basin National Park. The sign says, “dear tourist, please do not park here overnight. Free camping south of Baker on BLM land. Thank you.” We found a better option just a little north of the park.
Our campsite at the Sacramento Pass BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Campground was about 18 miles from the entrance of Great Basin National Park. There was pay camping inside the park, but camping at Sacramento Pass was Free. Amenities: pit toilet, covered picnic tables, fire rings, grills, numbered sites (which usually mean a bit of privacy as hopefully, no one else will try to park in the same site).
Pond at Sacramento Pass BLM Campground.

A few stats you might be interested in

Camping totals (all camping is free unless otherwise indicated):

1 – nights in a National Forest
5 – nights at BLM campsite
3 – nights boondocking on BLM land
1 – night Idaho county park
9 – nights Idaho Power campsite
3 – nights paid ($15) in Idaho County Park
2 – nights paid ($46.04) in Idaho State Park
1 – night paid ($5) at BLM campsite
2 – nights paid ($30) National Park Campground
3 – nights on private land/campground (a free campsite but we will probably leave a donation)

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 43

Number of times we kayaked in June: 2. We have used our kayak 17 times since we bought it which brings our cost per trip down to $29.65.

Number of miles driven: 1669 (this makes our June gas cost about 16¢ per mile)

Value we have gotten out of our $80 National Park pass since we bought it in May 2020 – $55. Only $25 more dollars and we will break even.

*All pics are click to enlarge.

Free dispersed BLM camping at Bonneville Salt Flats. We were within walking distance to the flats from here.
Free camping at a Twin Falls County Balanced Rock Park. Amenities: picnic tables, grills, and a pit toilet.
Salmon Falls Creek at Balance Rock Park.
The balanced rock was down the road outside the campground. It is 48′ high and 40′ wide. Its base is only 3′ by 17.5″.
Campsite at Swan Falls. This Free campsite is managed by Idaho Power. There are 20 numbered sites. This is site 20 (we were told this was the best site by other campers).
At Swan Falls on the Snake River. Amenities: walking distance to a pit toilet, fire ring, some sites had picnic tables, numbered sites.
Bob had a nice view of the Snake River.
Campsite at Celebration Park on the Snake River. It was $5 a night to camp here. There is a 3-night max stay each month. Amenities: Flush toilets, and running water a bit of a hike from the camping area, a weak wifi signal, picnic tables, and fire rings.
Although it was beautiful on the river after our first night at Celebration Park we moved to the parking lot next to the tent camping area. We were able to get a wifi signal here from the visitor center and we needed to do a little internet catching up after not having a signal at our campsite for the 6 days we spent at Swan Falls. Amenities: flush toilets and running water at the nearby visitor center, free wifi, picnic tables, and fire rings.
Free Camping spot at Jack’s Creek which is managed by Idaho Power and part of the C.J. Strike WMA. This camping area was along the Bruneau Reservior, an arm off of the Snake River. Amenities: pit toilets.
Camping at the Equestrian Camp at Bruneau Dunes State Park. We camped at this no reservation/walk-up/self-register campground right outside the park entrance for a nightly rate of $23.02 (including tax and $5 entrance to the park). The park is only 14 miles from Jack’s Creek so we could have stayed there free to visit the park but it was more convenient to stay here and I thought we’d be able to take showers. Unfortunately, the showers were closed due to the virus. Amenities: pit toilet, picnic tables, fire rings, grills, and numbered sites. Inside the park:  potable water, dump station, showers (when there isn’t a pandemic, I assume).
Free campsite at Bell Rapids – another Idaho Power campsite along the Snake River. Amenities: pit toilet.
$5 camping at the BLM’s Milner Historic Recreation Area. Amenities: pit toilet and numbered sites.
Free camping at Myrtle Point on Magic Reservoir. Amenities: pit toilet.
Lava Flow Campground at Crater’s of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, $15 per night. Amenities: Potable water, pit toilets, flush toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, numbered sites, and a whole lotta lava.
Honey’s. This is a private Free campground in someone’s yard. It is owned by Scar who lives in a school bus on the property with his dog Ruby (see the bus, way in the back on the left side of the photo). It is literally right next door to a KOA campground. Scar says if you are waffling on whether to stay at Honey’s or the KOA you need to go to the KOA. Amenities: wifi and electricity. Also, there is a hostel (old school bus) if you are tenting and want to sleep “inside,” a hot shower (Scar has to have his water trucked in so we didn’t use this), a beer fridge (we always have plenty of our own beer), and a book exchange.

To see all of our expense reports, click here.

If you are interested in reading other expense reports from people living on the road, check out these links:

Far Out Ride
Roaming About
Just Call Us Nomads

Cute Animal of the Month!

Yellow-bellied Marmot. I want one!

10 thoughts on “June 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. Looks like you found some great places to camp. We really enjoyed our time in Idaho back in 2016 when we worked camped there. Thanks for sharing your expenses. I always find the info interesting and helpful to see how we measure up. We don’t boondock like we used to and now have a monthly lot fee that unfortunately adds to our monthly budget.

    1. Idaho was a nice surprise! We just got to visit southern Idaho but the Snake River was amazing.

      I wish I had started tracking our expenses earlier. I would love to see how we stack up against our boat expenses.

      Sometimes boonfocking can be wearing – worrying about finding a good space. But Idaho was awesome since so much of the free camping was at established sites!

  2. So much interesting information in here! A question about water: Do you buy it? Grab it from available fountains? Get it from waterways and boil? I might do the latter but maybe that’s a bad idea.

    So much wonder in these photos. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Mostly we buy water. Our first season in the van we had a lot of problems with our water tasting bad. We filled up at a friend’s house in Tucson but after a few days the water started tasting bad so we had to dump it. Since then we mostly buy it. In the southwest this is pretty easy – there are stand alone kiosks where you can buy water anywhere from 10¢ to 30¢ a gallon. Also outside of many Walmarts, grocery stores and convenience stores there are often times water machines.

      We also installed a water filter after that first year when we had so much trouble with the water. It is the same kind of filter one would use in their home under the sink.

      Sometimes we get water from National or State parks for free. We have never gotten it from a river but some people do using some kind of filter as they pump it out.

      Thanks for such a great question!

      1. There are those tablets that purify water though I’ve never tried them. When I keep water too long in my purse (my refillable bottle), it does start tasting like, well, dirty socks? Yuck! I toss it.

        1. I don’t think I’d be too keen on putting a table in our water. We have put bleach in it before and it made the water taste bleachy. We may have put too much.

  3. Your campsites are really attractive and seeing your photos of Idaho on Instagram makes me want to go there. Looking forward to your posts about this state!

    This was a good month for you both, other than the van expenses. So, did you end up buying two tires or replace them all four? We are considering new tires for Zesty (bigger ones than we have now to add an extra inch of clearance), but have been reluctant to spend the money on that yet. It would be about $600 as well, from Sam’s Club.

    I love your thinking about using the space wisely, with laundry and food. Similar with the fridge! Wise. Practice makes perfect. By the way, when we were on our sailboat in the tropics, we never put cabbage in the fridge, so you might save some space with that as well. Your grocery expenses are still impressive. Way more than us in June! I’ll hope to post our report this weekend.

    Enjoy your meet-up with Ellen and Scot!!

    1. It was two tires. I know – so expensive but for some reason we don’t have a cheaper option. We should look into Sam’s Club for tires – we don’t have a membership but it may be worth it for tires – although we have three new tires since November so I am hoping we don’t need them for a while.

      Never heard that about cabbage. It seems like the cabbage would wilt over time. The thing I like about cabbage is you can keep it forever which is a real good thing since a head of cabbage is usually pretty big.

      We are really looking forward to seeing Scott and Ellen. It should be soon.

  4. Camping fees in Idaho are sure a lot less than in the Northeast. Here even state park or state forest campgrounds are $25+ per night, and you can’t camp in day use/picnic areas the way it looks like you did in Idaho. Go West!

    1. There is so much free and cheap camping in the west. State parks are sometimes just as pricey as they are in the east but there are so many alternatives that we hardly ever camp in a state park – or even a national park.

      I know some of the places we camped don’t really look like campsites but every one allowed overnight camping. Surprisingly Idaho has lots of free camping at boat ramps. Perhaps because fishing is so popular there.

      The west is best!

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