September 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

At the Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota. These guys were built by the Works Progress Administration in 1936.

We have finally left Montana. Right now (9/30) we are sitting in a library in Rapid City, South Dakota This is our third day in the library and we will probably return tomorrow. Luckily, it is a really nice library. Very quiet and they seem to be taking social distancing and mask-wearing very seriously. Library hours are from 9 am to 7 pm on weekdays and 10 am to 6 pm on the weekend and we have been taking advantage of all those hours. The only issue is that there is only two-hour parking in front of the library so every second hour Greg has to go outside and move Ballena Blanca to a different two-hour location around the block.

We are here in Rapid City waiting for some merchandise. Greg finally had an eye exam. Although he had the exam at Walmart in Billings, Montana we were hoping to fill the prescription at another Walmart in another city. This ended up being difficult since Walmart directed him to order the contacts online and then we found out they couldn’t deliver them to an address (another Walmart) that wasn’t our billing address. We ended up ordering the contacts from Pearle Vision here in Rapid City. I also order some basket organizers for the van from Lowes. We keep bringing more things (like new contacts) into the van but are running out of storage places for those new things. We have picked up the contacts but are still waiting for the baskets. And now tomorrow we need to go to a Ford dealer to replace a lost key fob for the van. The expenses go on and on.

Free campsite among the trees at Woodhawk Campground in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana.

We actually did a lot of waiting in September. After our big trip through the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument, we hunkered down for a while and did some major van cleaning. Besides a regular sweeping of the floors, Ballena Blanca hadn’t had a big clean for well over a year. We found a free city campground where we could stay for a while and methodically removed things, wiped up the layers of dust, and put everything back in place. Since we were in one spot for so long it was also a good time to strike some other things off our to-do lists. We had a package sent from our mailbox service in Florida with new credit and debit cards. As I mentioned, Greg had his eyes examined. We made an Amazon order for new lighting to replace some fixtures that were failing and accessories to go with my new camera. And, oh yeah, I bought a new camera.

My old camera had some serious issues. I don’t think it was built to be out in the elements all the time. Although it is just a little point and shoot with a zoom lens somehow it got dust inside the lens. I have been spending a lot of time touching up spots with photoshop on my pictures for a while now. The preview function wouldn’t work anymore without shutting down after a few pictures. The electronic zoom was having trouble zooming and finally stopped zooming altogether. And finally, the camera lens wouldn’t extend at all and was shutting down right after I turned it on.

I had been thinking about a new camera for a while but the one I wanted (a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV) costs a lotta bucks. It’s a bridge camera – much better than a point and shoot, as big as an SLR but without interchangeable lenses. I don’t like interchangeable lenses for fear of getting dust inside the camera – which is kind of ironic now. This camera has a much longer zoom – so much better for taking pictures of birds! It is supposed to be dust and moisture resistant. And has all kinds of other great features. I decided it was time to get serious about this photography thing so I ordered one through Best Buy.

I also ordered a camera cleaning kit, case, and lens filter through Amazon. I am promising myself to take care of this one – keep it clean, learn how it works, and become a better photographer.

Our spot at the BLM managed Jame Kipp Campground along the Missouri River in Montana. $12 per night.

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.
Free camping (donations accepted) at Itch-Kep-Pe city park/campground. It is a sizable campground on the Yellowstone River in the small town of Columbus, Montana. We arrived the Thursday before Labor Day weekend. The campground filled up over the weekend but spots were still available each day. We stayed here 12 days (camping limit is 10 days – we miscounted and overstayed) while we were waiting for deliveries and cleaning the van.

And our total expenses for September were…


Here is the break down of categories…

Expenses September 2020
Gas $221.26
Insurance/Registration $78.44
Maintenance $0.00
Repairs $0.00
Van Total $299.70
Life in the Van
Upgrade/Repairs to Upfit $64.49
Utilities $3.59
Camping $32.00
Household $9.21
Laundry $7.75
Showers $0.00
Tolls/Parking $0.00
Van Life Total $117.04
Phone $78.16
Mail Service $0.00
Communication Total $78.16
Food $279.78
Booze $146.48
Cleaning/Paper Products $36.08
Medicine Cabinet $21.46
Consumables Total $483.80
Drinks/Eating Out $0.00
Museums/Attractions/Music $5.00
Entertainment Total $5.00
Eyes/Feet/Doctor $290.00
Dentist $0.00
Health Total $290.00
Clothes $34.09
Gifts/Charity $10.28
Gear $1,679.03
Personal Total $1,723.40
*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.
Northern Leopard Frog on the Yellowstone River at Itch-Kep-Pe campground. This guy was one of the first pics I took with my new camera.
A California Gull flies over the river. The follow focus works pretty well on my new camera.

The camera expense is included in the Gear total. There are a few other miscellaneous things in Gear but the vast bulk of it is camera.

As you can see we spent a good bit on cleaning products. Greg scoffed at me when I mentioned that we might want a bigger bottle of Armor All. We ended up running out to the local IGA in Columbus for more Armor All, Pinesol, and good ol’ white vinegar. I’m pretty serious when I clean which is why it doesn’t happen real often.

We also took some time to do some campervan repairs. The varnish on the countertop around the sink was starting to peel so Greg did some sanding, staining, and applied new poly. We replaced some hoses on our water tank and the flange that attaches our sink to our grey water tank. We were quite productive!

We spent a couple of days visiting our friend Sid again before we left finally left Montana. Our spot in Sid’s driveway.
Dispersed camping at Scoria Pit outside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Smoke from the wildfires along the west coast hung over us for a few days making the skies and sunset hazy.
We met up with our friends from Scamper Squad at Scoria Pit.

A few stats you might be interested in

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

1 – night BLM campground
1 – night paid ($12) BLM campground
12 – nights at a free (donations accepted) City Park
2 – nights in a friend’s driveway
6 – boondocking (free camping) in a National Grassland
1 – night at a visitor center/rest area
2 – nights at a reservoir
1 – night dispersed camping in a National Forest
4 – nights in a Cabella’s Parking lot

Number of gallons of water bought/acquired for the van: 31 – we didn’t buy water by the gallon like we usually do in September. We filled up free at a campground, a friend’s house, and a national park – so our number of gallons might be a little inaccurate.

Number of miles driven: 1613 (this makes our September gas cost about 14¢ per mile)

We like to keep track of the value we have gotten out of our $80 National Park pass that we bought it in May 2020. So far we have visited 8 national park sites and a BLM site on our pass, a $260 value bringing our savings up to $180 savings so far!

Number of states we have now visited in Ballena Blanca: 28! See the interactive map below to see which ones.

On our last day at Theodore Roosevelt NP we spent the night at the park’s visitor center and rest area to save time on the next’s day’s travels.
Sunset at our free camping spot at Belle Fourche Reservoir in South Dakota.
Morning at a different spot at Belle Fourche Reservoir in South Dakota.
Dispersed camping in the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota.
Some fun rigs we saw at a museum in South Dakota.
Camping in a Cabella’s parking lot. It has been packed with campers every night we’ve been here. We only thought we would be here one night. It has been 4 so far.
A piece of the Berlin Wall in Rapid City.
Duwan and Greg at Pompey’s Pillar in Montana.

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

*All pics are click to enlarge.

10 thoughts on “September 2020 Cost of Being a Nomad

  1. Congrats on the new camera. I love my bridge camera – Panasonic Lumix FZ-300. Every time I think about getting a DSLR, I end up having a great day of photography and then feel no need to spend the money on more camera gear.

    1. Your camera seems to serve you very well! You take wonderful pictures. I carried a DSLR with me our first year of sailing. It was just too much trouble. I love compact cameras but they never last. Hopefully a Bridge camera will be the perfect compromise.

  2. I also just bought a Sony DSC-RX10 IV after my point n’ shoot gave up the ghost. I recommend a “Photographer’s Guide to the Sony DSC-RX10 IV” by Alexander S. White. I used to be a semi pro photog with Nikons and lenses and a darkroom; I wanted to simplify. I just retired last week and maybe I’ll see you guys out on the road. I’ll be driving “Lucy”, my 2020 Firecracker Red Jeep Wrangler with color matching 5X9 offroad teardrop trailer when I’m exploring backroads and national parks. For highway only trips when staying at B&B’s or Airbnb and visiting cities I’ll be driving my 2018 Long Beach Red Metallic Corvette Grand Sport (unnamed). Be safe!!!

    1. Thanks for the tip on the book. I might just get it. I have scanned the manual for the camera and have read about the functions I find most useful right now, but I have found some info in the manual hard to find – like silent mode. You’d think you could search the manual for silent mode and find it and meet camera settings but no luck. I finally found it under movie settings and i can’t remember what it was called but silent was not in the name. But I’m good at figuring things out so I think I’ll get it all eventually.

      It seems like we won’t be able to miss you when you hit the road in you various distinctive vehicles! Enjoy your retirement!

      1. Sorry for the double post. If I knew how to delete one I would. A lot of people have said the Sony manual is lacking, hence the need for a book. If you’re good at figuring things out yourself, then you’ll probably be fine!

        1. No problem. I deleted one of them.

          The manual is detailed but confusing sometimes. There are some cool functions I want to use that I need to go read about again like the ability to see a wider scene when you are all the way zoomed out.

          I’ve always been lazy about the technical parts of photography. It’s time to do better now.

    1. Hey Tracey! Thanks! Dispersed camping is any camping on public land outside of an established campground. National Forest usually have designated dispersed camping areas along certain routes. General they want you to camp in a previously used site and be within a certain distance from the road.

  3. An expensive month for gear (and health), but we all need exams and replacement of electronics. I was wondering what your first photo with your new camera would be. Works fantastic by the looks of it!

    I’m glad to read that the libraries out west are open. Here in MA (or in our current town anyway), only 30 minutes a day of restrictive book browsing is allowed! No work at the library for me…

    Hoping to see you before Thanksgiving!

    1. Many libraries seem to be open. We are sitting in one in Grand Junction, Colorado right now. It is very nice and they seem to be on top of the whole mask/safety thing too. Not all libraries that we have been in have been enforcing mask rules.

      It was an expensive month but I think it is all going to average out ok at the end of the year. Only one more big expense to go – the dentist.

      Looking forward to when you hit the road (hopefully as I am writing this) and seeing you soon!

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